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Free Movement review of 2017 and look ahead to 2018


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The year 2017 was not one that much troubled the goats, at least those hircine heroes whose hirsute hides historicise immigration legislation; 2017 will see no major Act of Parliament written in vellum which directly affects immigration law, unlike the years 2014 and 2016.

Instead, 2017 turned out to be a combination of anticlimax and consolidation in immigration law and policy. The refugee crisis continued albeit virtually unreported in many news sources. Free Movement itself had a really big year. Finally, I attempt to peer into the future for what 2018 might hold in store for us all.


A new White Paper on future immigration policy promised for the autumn of 2017 failed to materialise. We did, though, get a leaked glimpse into what some at the Home Office want for the future, which was basically the staggered introduction of full existing immigration controls for future EU entrants, no matter what the cost to the country.

On an official level, we still know next to nothing of what plans the UK Government has for migration rights of future entrant EU nationals, and therefore the reciprocal rights that UK citizens may or may not have to visit, work and study in the EU. If the UK Government has any such plans at all, that is, given that it seems the Government cannot see beyond the end of the week never mind what it wants to happen in 5 to 10 years time and beyond.

We did at least learn much more about the likely future rights of EU citizens resident in the UK before Brexit and, correspondingly, UK citizens resident in the EU. The former will have to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain under UK law by an unknown deadline or become illegal. The latter were barely an afterthought for the UK Government. They get no special treatment at all, simply being treated instead as any other long term resident third country national in the EU (which is basically what the UK is doing to EU nationals, after all).

Meanwhile, waiting times for immigration appeals exceeded 18 months in many cases.


The hostile environment continued to spread its tentacles with new measures to close bank accounts announced along with the introduction of requirements for defendants in criminal trials to declare their nationality or nationalities. Restrictions on EU free movement law were consolidated when the 2016 regulations came into force in February 2017.

Although the Home Office was partially defeated in the Supreme Court in the MM case on the spouse minimum income rule, the rule remains essentially intact, as do cruel rules choking off of entry into the UK by elderly dependent relatives. These rules now appear permanent features of UK immigration policy.

Refugee crisis

3,116 migrants lost their lives in the Mediterranean in 2017.

The number of arrivals and the number of deaths both declined compared to the previous year, but the proportion of deaths to arrivals increased from 0.5% in 2016 to 3.5% in 2017.

There is a detailed analysis available at the IOM Missing Migrants project.

Biggest year yet for Free Movement

At the risk of going all Trump on you, this last year has been the greatest yet for Free Movement the website. We received over 3 million page views from 1.6 million visitors to the website, up 10% on the previous year. And 2016 had itself been a record year.

Membership continues to rise, with 1557 active members, up 30% on last year, and the email list now stands at 17,700, up 36% on last year.

The biggest development by far, though, was the appointment of CJ McKinney as deputy editor in September. He has been doing a brilliant job commissioning, editing and writing for the website. A massive “thank you” to CJ for his extremely hard work, particularly in November, when we published an eye watering 70 pieces of content on the main blog.

Regular readers will have noticed a new diversity of voices on the website. We have been lucky to publish contributions and articles from a range of talented people working in immigration law and policy. I want to particularly thank Nath Gbikpi, Nick Nason and Paul Erdunast, who have made extremely valuable contributions. I always look forward to reading their work.

Many thanks also to Chris Desira (also a valuable contributor to the blog) and his colleague Chris Benn of Seraphus Solicitors who have been offering legal services via Free Movement. We’ve worked together to design and operate a convenient, fixed price, high quality service online and it works – those who need it can purchase a range of low priced ebook self help guides, book video link or telephone consultations and opt for either an application checking service or full representation.

I am also extremely grateful to Faye Clowes, who very substantially improved my quality of life in 2017 by very ably taking over a number of important administrative functions.

Looking forward, eagle-eyed regular readers may notice a slight redesign of some elements of the website coming very shortly. At the same time, we will start moving blog posts into a members’ vault a couple of weeks after they are published. Aside from all the work on the main blog, we added and updated several new courses in the second half of 2017 (trafficking, deprivation of citizenship, naturalisation, Immigration Acts 2014 and 2016, Dublin 3, update podcasts and more) and there is a new detailed course on deportation in the pipeline. We have plenty more new training content planned for the rest of the year.

What is coming up in 2018?

Here I attempt to predict the major upcoming developments in immigration law and policy for 2018…

Immigration White Paper

The contents of the White Paper are entirely unknown at the time of writing but are expected to address future EU migration and perhaps migration policy more generally. The fact that a major MAC report on future immigration is not expected until September 2018 suggests the White Paper may not be comprehensive when it does eventually arrive (see below).

Second phase EU-UK talks

With sufficient progress having been made, the second phase of EU-UK talks on future relationship will begin in early 2018, including on a transitional phase that is likely to preserve most or all elements of the single market and free movement of people.

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Formerly known as the “Great Repeal Bill” but also referred to in some quarters as the “Great Download and Save Bill” this is the main legislative measure bringing about Brexit. In short it:

  • Repeals the European Communities Act 1972
  • Directly incorporates into UK law some EU legislation
  • Imparts extensive powers to the Government to make secondary legislation relevant to Brexit

It is unknown when the Bill will become law but it is likely in early 2018.

Immigration Bill

This is anticipated to be a very short Bill subjecting EEA nationals to UK  immigration law and formally repealing the Immigration (Economic Area) Regulations 2016. There may be some potential to propose amendments and it can act as a focus for discussion. Despite (or because of) immigration being an enormous and controversial subject, the Government already commands extensive powers to regulate immigration policy and law without primary legislation.

Migration Advisory Committee report on economic migration

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is an official advisory body appointed by the Government to advise on immigration issues. MAC was commissioned in July 2017 to consider the position of EEA nationals in the UK labour market. The consultation formally closed in October 2017 and the final report is due September 2018.

Law Commission review of Immigration Rules

This exercise is confined to re-writing the law of immigration rather than the policy. However, the Law Commission is a genuinely independent (if conservative) body, consults widely and is already seeking assistance with its task. Simplification of immigration law is extremely desirable in order to improve accessibility.

Target for completion of UK withdrawal talks

The EU has set a target of Autumn 2018 for conclusion of withdrawal talks. This would in theory give sufficient time for all Member States to approve the deal, as  is required by Article 50 TFEU (which governs withdrawal).

Whether any or all of this comes to pass, we shall soon see. Bon courage!

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Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.