Brexit: Means test for Britons to return with EU family

A last-ditch bid to change a new law labelled "inhumane" by the British in Europe campaign coalition, has failed in the House of Lords

22 October 2020
By Liv Rowland

Britons wanting to return to the UK from France and other EU countries will face means tests if returning after March 2022 as the Lords failed to support a final bid to change a new law.

It means a Briton wanting to return to the UK will have to show at current rates that he or she has income of at least £18,600 if they are to bring an EU nationality spouse or partner to live with them, plus £3,800 for a first dependent non-British child and then £2,400 for each additional child (the spouse's means are not usually taken into account, see bottom of this article for more).

This rule is already applied to Britons coming back from other parts of the world with non-British family members whereas under EU free movement Britons can go back freely with foreign partners, children or other dependents.

Several Lib Dem peers spoke yesterday of the suffering to families they said would be caused. A vote on an amendment in the UK’s House of Lords was however lost 168 to 254, after, notably, most of the Labour peers abstained. 

The amendment to the new Immigration Bill, for which the British in Europe (BiE) coalition of campaign groups had lobbied, asked that Britons living in the EU before the end of the transition period have instead until the end of December 2040 to go back to the UK with EU nationality family members without needing to undertake a means test.

Baroness Hamwee (Lib Dem) introduced the amendment yesterday after consulting with BiE. It made a concession to Conservative MPs who on Monday had opposed a previous version which asked for the rights to last for the British expatriates’ lives. The MPs said it was “unfair” to give certain EU citizens a free movement right in “perpetuity”.

The vote against the amendment means it is the end of the line for the fight to include special provision for Britons currently living abroad in the EU, and the bill will go through its final stages unchanged.

Lords Minister Baroness Williams (Con) said the government had given sufficient notice to these Britons and their families, by giving “three years after the date when we were originally supposed to leave the EU”.

This “strikes the right balance,” she said, “between providing sufficient time for UK nationals and their family members living in the EEA or Switzerland to make decisions and plans for returning to the UK, and ensuring equal treatment of the family members of UK nationals under the immigration rules as soon as reasonably possible.”

The Labour peers explained in a tweet that they abstained since they could see there was “no appetite among Tory MPs to help us achieve these concessions”.

Baroness Hamwee said the peers been emailed by “many, varied families who all explained the anxiety they felt”.

She said: “I understand the government’s concern that EEA citizens should be treated the same as citizens in the rest of the world after the end of free movement, but the situations are not exactly the same.

“When marriages were made and families created after we had acquired rights of free movement, who would have given a thought to whether those rights might end?”

Baroness Ludford (LD) said families are being “placed in extremely difficult and worrying circumstances,” and without the amendment “huge misery will be inflicted on a large number of people." The three-year period was "arbitrary", she said.

Lord Oates (LD) said that speaking as a Briton with a non-EEA spouse, he did not think the amendment was unfair. “When we made decisions about our lives, we did so in the knowledge and understanding of the rules at the time, just as UK citizens with EEA spouses did, with no reasonable expectation this would change.”

BiE co-chairwoman Jane Golding told The Connexion the coalition is very disappointed by the result, though they appreciated the support of those peers who spoke up in support.

She said: "It will cause real suffering and we have been contacted by many people affected. Three of our steering team, including our co-chair Fiona and myself are affected.  

"I think Baroness Hamwee summed it up: it’s inhumane to be faced with a choice by March 2022 whether to be there for your partner’s elderly parent in the EU or your own in the UK.

"However, equally, we have been contacted by older and retired people who are realising that this might be their last chance to go back to the UK with, for example, their Thai or German wife or husband, because the current rules cover anyone living in the EEA with a non-UK partner, whether their nationality is EU or non-EU."

She added: “Obviously the government recognises the unfairness of this change, otherwise they wouldn’t have agreed to a grace period in the first place, although a three-year grace period that starts before the rules have changed is a nonsense.

“We simply don’t understand why the rules could not remain unchanged for a finite group of people for a finite and fair period and only for pre-existing family members as we asked.”

There was also a wider issue about whether the minimum income requirement is fair for anyone affected by it, she said.

Previous articles

Lords to fight again for Britons' family rights

British MPs vote against family rights of returning Britons

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