Covid-19, Brexit and borders…what does it mean for the UK?

Tue, 17 Mar 2020

As countries start closing their borders under the escalating threat of Covid-19 what rights does the UK have and what about UK citizens in Europe?  Leading immigration and human rights barrister Becket Bedford of No5 Barristers’ Chambers offers his expert analysis:

The UK, like every member state, is free to test new arrivals for Covid-19 at the airport or at any time up to three months from their arrival and, if necessary, to refuse them entry or send them home.

This freedom exists under European law but, as the example of Austria closing its border to Italians shows, there is no particular advantage to Brexit in this regard. On the other hand, the legality of Austria’s actions towards Italy is open to question. 

Action here would require the UK to test UK citizens on arrival also, and this may explain our reluctance to invoke the power.

 So exceptional is the coronavirus outbreak that there is no other example of the Member States invoking the power to deny entry or to expel European citizens on public health grounds. Europeans residing lawfully in the UK can be assured that after three months, no action can be taken to discriminate against them on public health grounds. 

European citizens are protected against discrimination on public health grounds in the same way that persons lawfully residing in the UK or Brits residing in Europe are protected against expulsion on grounds of public policy or security.

I have acted successfully to protect a Roma child from unlawful discrimination by invoking the rights earned for him by his mother working as an agency worker all across the country.  Similarly, I have acted for French children who turned 18 in the UK whose rights were earned by their mother working many years in England as a hairdresser.

For the time being the UK remains a party to European Law, except the Home Office has begun to act with increasing hostility towards European citizens it considers undesirable.

I recently acted for a young man who after residing lawfully in the UK for a number of years went on holiday to Greece. He was refused entry on returning to Luton airport on the basis of a past conviction in Romania - a conviction he declared when he applied online for the new pre-settled status before he left to go on holiday.

His re-entry was secured by urgent High Court action taken late at night.  The Home Office has since indicated it would agree not to remove him pending a tribunal appeal.  In the meantime, he was free to return to his home to look after his mother, employment and to take up a university place.

More and more European citizens are being required to take court action to secure their residence in the UK.

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