British MPs vote against family rights of returning Britons

An amendment to help Britons returning to the UK was voted down — the law concerned now 'ping-pongs' back to the Lords

20 October 2020
By Liv Rowland

British MPs have voted down proposals to stop Britons in the EU facing strict means tests if they move back to the UK with EU family.

Several Conservative MPs who spoke out against a key amendment said it would be “unfair”, and would mean maintaining a form of EU free movement, if Britons living in the EU before the end of the Brexit transition period with EU nationality family members were allowed to freely move back with them at any future time.

The Immigration Bill now goes back to the House of Lords tomorrow in a process known as parliamentary 'ping-pong', where it is possible the Lords will reintroduce the amendment for another, possibly final, time.

The UK’s new Immigration Bill proposes that Britons in the EU and their families face the same means tests as for any other mixed-nationality families after March 29, 2022 (see below for more on this means test).

The amendment, passed by the House of Lords last week, said there should be an exception for Britons in the EU who are covered by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement (WA) deal, with regard to close family members whose relationship with them existed before Brexit day (January 31, 2020).

The Lords had argued that the amendment was fair because such Britons, established in the EU before December 31, 2020, are likely to have moved abroad in good faith, not expecting that their freedom to return with EU spouses or children would later be removed.

Speaking against the amendment Junior Minister for Immigration Kevin Foster (Con) said that it would give the Britons concerned and their EU family members rights that would “continue perpetually”.

He said that the rights of this group were not covered by the WA deal, however the government had provided a “transition period” until March 2022.

After that, he said, “we have to be fair to other British citizens” who face the means tests if their family are coming from other parts of the world, as well as to British taxpayers who may have to “pay the costs” if low-income families are allowed to move back.

“In the long-run the same rules should apply to all, not continue indefinitely to give preferential treatment to those relying on past free movement rights that have been abolished,” he said.

He added however that he “respects the points” made to him by Sir Roger Gale MP (Con), who, as Sir Roger told The Connexion in an email, had a phone conversation with Mr Foster last weekend.

Sir Roger, known for his support for expatriates' rights, said in the email that he had tried to put forward objections to the government's position that were raised by the British in Europe coalition of campaign groups in a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel. The letter especially called attention to the new law’s “retrospective effect” for Britons concerned.

Sir Roger added however that he saw no evidence of strong support of the amendment among Conservative MPs and that his best hope was to see an extension of the March 2022 date for a further year or two. He said he would continue to press for this.

Speaking in favour of the amendment, Bambos Charalambous (Lab) said the means test would be “beyond the reach of many”.

“If they need to return to look after an ageing parent — an example shared with us on numerous occasions — thousands will now have to choose between returning to the UK alone, leaving their family behind or abandoning their parent to stay with their non-British family overseas. Nobody should have to face a choice like that," he said.

The SNP’s Stuart McDonald said UK family immigration rules were “among the most restrictive in the world... splitting up tens of thousands of British citizens from their spouses and parents”.

He said there was “little we can do” to stop that now being extended to Britons who move abroad in the EU and "fall in love with European nationals...but we can stop the rules applying to British citizens who are already living elsewhere in the EEA with non-UK spouses and their families”.

He said that when they left the UK, these people had “absolutely no reason ever to suspect their ability to return would be restricted”.

The government’s date of March 2022, merely “postpones this deep unfairness for a couple of years,” he said.

However Conservative MP Sarah Dines said: “The people of this country did not vote to leave the EU to go on to grant such indefinite rights” and it would be “grossly unfair” to Britons living elsewhere in the world.

Alexander Stafford (Con) echoed her comments, calling the amendment “desperately unfair”.

“The purpose of the immigration Bill is to guarantee that EU and non-EU citizens will be dealt with equally for the purposes of immigration,” he said. “This Lords amendment seeks to create a perpetual right for EU citizens over and above everyone else, which is exactly what we voted to end.”

“How is it fair when we create a two-tier immigration system that favours one group over another?” said another MP, Shaun Bailey (Con).

In a Facebook post British in Europe stated: “The summing up by Minister Kevin Foster showed that they still do not understand that we are asking for existing rights for a finite group of people to be maintained, we are not asking for new rights 'in perpetuity' as he suggests.”

What is the British means test for foreign family members?

To bring a foreign spouse/partner and/or foreign children to the UK a Briton needs to have earnings of over £18,600 (€20,700) plus £3,800 for a first child then £2,400 per child. The test does not apply to any children who have British nationality.

Earnings of the foreign spouse are not counted, unless in the unlikely situation that the spouse had already been earning from a job in the UK for at least six months.

Savings, including those of the spouse, can help towards the test if they are over £16,000. A person needs £16,000 plus £2.50 for every £1 that their income is below the financial requirement.

Previous articles

UK MPs to debate family rights of returning Britons

Lords vote for family rights of returning Britons 

Last chance for family rights of Britons returning to UK

Britons in France urged to lobby peers over family rights 

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