18 May 2016

from FT Letters

Debate must be about future immigration policy

Sir,Immigration is one of the key issues being debated during the referendum on Britain’s EU membership. Many people are not sure about what the referendum result would mean for the 3m EU migrants currently in Britain, or for the 1.2m British citizens living elsewhere in the EU. A significant number of British businesses would be disadvantaged by retrospective changes to their existing workforce.

In our view, the public debate about immigration and free movement should be about future immigration policy — so that future changes should not apply retrospectively to those currently exercising their free movement rights. Both current EU migrants in Britain and British migrants living in other EU member states should be able to continue to live and work in those countries. We believe there are principled, practical and legal reasons why this would be the most sensible approach in the event of a Leave vote — and one that would be agreed upon by advocates of a broad range of positions on both immigration and the EU. Indeed, our understanding is that the Vienna Convention on Treaties protects the acquired rights of individuals in situations of treaty change.

It would be good for the public debate about immigration if that consensus on this point was made clear before the referendum campaign. We are therefore calling on the official campaigns and leading voices for both the Remain and the Leave sides, and the major political parties, to clarify their position on this matter. The government should make clear that its policy would be to protect the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK and to seek reciprocal arrangements for UK citizens in other EU countries.

Establishing that broad consensus ahead of the campaign would give us a better informed public debate about immigration in this referendum. It would not just reassure those who are directly affected but would also give the voters who will decide the outcome a clearer understanding about what is and what is not at stake on the referendum ballot paper.

Sunder Katwala

Director, British Future

Simon Walker

Director General, Institute of Directors

Saira Grant

Chief Executive, JCWI

Nazek Ramadan

Director, Migrant Voice

Alp Mehmet

Vice-Chair, Migration Watch

Roger Casale

Founder and CEO, New Europeans

Stephen Booth

Co-Director, Open Europe

David Goodhart

Head of Demography Unit, Policy Exchange

This letter was originally published in The Financial Times on 11 April 2016.