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- Home Office officials in Theresa May’s government have discussed retaining free movement for EU citizens in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
- Border Force officials met in January to discuss contingency plans for different Brexit outcomes, including the prospect of the UK leaving without a deal.
- One of those would see the government implement “no more checks at the border,” according to written notes from the meeting seen by Business Insider.
- A source close to the Home Office explained that the Border Force would likely have little other choice than to carry on treating EU citizens preferentially because it does not have the staffing capacity to cope with a surge in the processing of non-EEA citizens.
LONDON – Theresa May’s government is considering allowing the free movement for EU citizens at the UK border to continue if Britain leaves the EU without a deal, according to confidential details of a Home Office meeting leaked to Business Insider.
Border Force officials met in January to discuss contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit. Among the options considered was a plan to allow “no more checks at the border,” according to written notes of the meeting sent to BI.
A source close to the Home Office explained that the Border Force would likely have little other choice than to carry on allowing EU citizens freely into the UK as it would not have the staffing capacity, resources, or infrastructure to implement a new registration scheme in a no-deal scenario.
It currently takes an average of approximately 45 seconds to check an EEA citizens’ passport, compared to an average of 4 minutes for an non-EEA arrival.
If every new arrival was subject to 4-minute checks, there could be days-long queues at some British airports without a dramatic increase in the number of trained immigration officers.
‘Worst case scenario’
Among the options considered by officials was a “worst case scenario” in which “ministers [are asked] to tolerate higher risk for security,” by not carrying out full security checks on new arrivals.
This scenario would likely see May’s government agreeing to implement “intelligence-led controls” whereby only certain individuals are targeted for processing by officials rather than imposing full checks on all new EU arrivals.
However, Theresa May suffered a major crisis as Home Secretary over a scandal involving the relaxation of border controls through intelligence-led checks in 2011, meaning she would be reluctant to impose a similar system again.
An alternative plan being considered by Home Office officials to cope with a no-deal Brexit would be to “throw resources” at borders, filling airports with extra immigration officers to handle the huge extra capacity that would result from the government having to process every new arrival as a non-EU citizen.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have been clear that free movement of people from the EU will end and we will control immigration in the national interest. Immigration from the EU will be subject to UK law.”
“All visitors and UK citizens are already subject to 100% passport and identity checks at the border. This will continue in the future either on a deal or no-deal scenario.”
Immigration is one major area where the UK could maintain the status quo in order to minimise chaos under a no-deal Brexit, according to Joe Owen, a researcher at the Institute for Government.
“There are some things where no-deal means an unavoidable change, whatever happens [such as tariffs],” he told Business Insider.
“There are some things where the UK can unilaterally decide that nothing changes and carries on before – immigration is one of those, however politically uncomfortable it may be.”
“If you have gridlock for lorries at Dover or Calais in the event of no-deal, it makes sense to try and avoid that being the case at Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton or Manchester.”