James Brokenshire, the Immigration Minister, says that immigration law is unfair. More specifically, it is unfair that if a British citizen wants to bring their foreign spouse to live with them in the UK they have to meet an income requirement of at least £18,600 per annum (difficult for some), whereas if an EEA national wants to bring their spouse to the UK there is no particular income requirement.

This issue was highlighted by Keith Vaz MP (who also happens to be the Home Affairs Committee Chairman) a constituent of whom had brought up the matter. As Mr Vaz vividly explains it, two people could live next door to each other in identical houses, one could be British and one could be European, they both want to bring their spouses to the UK, and one would have to meet the financial requirement and the other wouldn’t.

Mr Brokenshire agreed with him; apparently he does think that it’s unfair, and he said that it wasn’t acceptable and that “it’s something that needs to be addressed”.

We don’t know if Messrs Vaz and Brokenshire have only just discovered this apparent anomaly, but there is nothing new about European “free movement” law, which has been in operation in the UK for many years. Non-European spouses of EEA nationals have never had to meet a financial requirement when they come to the UK, and it was this Government that introduced the various financial requirements in immigration rules that were introduced in July 2012, which affect British citizens but not EEA nationals. It was then this “anomaly” arose.

But, in fairness, the situation does seem rather curious and counterintuitive. How is it that Europeans in the UK get more flexible treatment than British citizens in the UK?

The answer lies in the way that European law operates, and in two different ways. For one thing, the British Government cannot change European free movement law. Any change in free movement law (which is one of the founding principles of the European project) would have to be widely agreed by the members of the EU, and that may never happen.

For another thing, free movement law operates in a very particular manner. EEA nationals (including the British) only get the benefit of European free movement law when they cross European borders. So a British person moving to France may be able to benefit from free movement law and a French person moving to the UK may similarly be able to benefit, but neither the British nor the French person can benefit from free movement law in their own countries. The fundamental reason for this is that free movement law is there to facilitate movement of people between European countries.

It may be that Mr Brokenshire and his colleagues in the Government discover that the only way to eliminate the anomaly would be for the UK to leave the EU — which would be a highly dramatic step indeed.

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