My barber not the only one unsure what will happen here post-Brexit
London Letter: Britain’s policy seems to be puzzling immigration minister Nokes too
Caroline Nokes told the Home Affairs Committee that if Britain leaves the EU without a deal, employers will have to distinguish between EU citizens who arrived before Brexit day and those who came in afterwards. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
The man in the next chair looked across at me, splayed almost horizontal, my head tilted backwards and a cotton bud covered in hot, black wax pointing outwards from each nostril and earhole.
“You’re like a butterfly with a pin in it,” he said.
I wanted to tell him I was flattered but I couldn’t breathe or swallow as I felt the first touch of a cold blade on my throat.
I’d been coming to this barber shop since it opened two years ago and enjoyed watching it get busier each week as word spread about Mohammed and his brother Ahmed. Born and raised in Alexandria to an Egyptian father and a Greek mother, they moved to London five years ago and worked in a shop nearby before setting up their own.
No haircut lasts less than half an hour and you can get halfway through a short novel waiting your turn among the clientele, about half of whom are Arab, a quarter gay (some fall into both categories) and a quarter everything else.
As he shaved my neck, Mohammed filled me in on his news, how his daughter had turned one and how he had finally escaped having to do Greek military service. Their Greek passports meant he and his brother could live and work in Britain but he was worried about what would happen after Brexit.
He wanted to apply for naturalisation but the application cost £1,330 and he would have to prove proficiency in English and do a Life in the UK test. Mohammed’s English is adequate for his work but it’s not proficient and his brother’s is even more limited. Neither of them is confident about passing the Life in the UK test, which includes questions on subjects such as the powers of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the date of St David’s Day.
I asked him why he didn’t apply instead for settled status, which the government says will be available after Brexit to all EU citizens living in Britain and costs just £65. He had heard something about it but didn’t understand how it worked or who was eligible.
As a 20-something Egyptian who works long hours and has a young family, Mohammed can be forgiven for failing to follow all the details of Britain’s post-Brexit immigration policy. As it turns out, immigration minister Caroline Nokes doesn’t understand it either.
She told the Home Affairs Committee last Tuesday that if Britain leaves the EU without a deal, employers will have to distinguish between EU citizens who arrived before Brexit day and those who came into the country afterwards. “If somebody hasn’t been here prior to the end of March next year, employers will have to make sure they go through adequately rigorous checks to evidence somebody’s right to work,” she said.
Shona Dunn, the Home Office’s most senior official responsible for immigration, told the committee that Theresa May wanted to end free movement of people from the EU on March 29th next year if there was no deal.
“If that were the case, the prime minister has been very clear that she would want free movement turned off at that point in time,” she said. “So it would be our intention to have it done at that point in time. There will be a number of bits of secondary legislation, I would imagine.”
A few hours later, the Home Office issued a statement confirming that EU citizens would continue to be able to evidence their right to work by showing a passport or national identity card. “Employers will not be expected to differentiate between resident EU citizens and those arriving after exit,” it said.
On Wednesday night, home secretary Sajid Javid refined the position further, suggesting that there would be a “sensible transition period” for EU citizens after a no-deal Brexit.
“We’ve just got to be practical. If there was a no-deal, we won’t be able to immediately distinguish between those Europeans that were already here before March 29th, and those who came after – and therefore as a result I wouldn’t expect employers to do anything different than they do today,” he said.
“There will need to be some kind of sensible transition period. I mean, these are the kinds of things I’ve been working on for months and months.”
After Mohammed ripped the cotton buds from my nose and ears, I told him he could apply for settled status on his phone and the government promised to make the process as quick and easy as possible. It was only after I left the shop that I remembered that Nokes had told the committee on Tuesday that the application doesn’t work on an iPhone. She blamed Apple.