Brexit moved back to the front-burner of British politics on Monday, months after COVID-19 knocked it out of the headlines, with the government launching a new public information campaign to prepare the nation for departure.
Advertisements under the “The U.K.’s new start: let’s get going” campaign will warn British tourists to get health insurance before traveling to the continent and offer advice on how to take pets abroad. Britons will also be warned to check the roaming policy of their telephone provider.
Britain has technically left the European Union, but the U.K. and the EU gave themselves an 11-month “transition period” — in which the U.K. will continue to follow the bloc’s rules. That ends Dec. 31, when the country will leave the 27-nation bloc’s vast single market.
But much remains unclear. Talks with the EU on a new trade deal have bogged down amid wide differences on major issues including fishing rights and competition. With a deal, the U.K. faces tariffs and other barriers to business with the EU, its biggest trading partner.
The government is trying to prepare people for the moment when agreements on trade, security and a host of other areas will change. One notable change will be the end of the freedom to live and work anywhere across of the EU, which is now comprised of 27 countries.
“Although of course we are going to be taking back control and we are controlling our immigration system we’re not going to be simply slamming the gates and stopping anybody anywhere coming into this country,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said. “Where people can contribute to this country, where people want to make their lives and do great things for this country, of course we’re going to have a humane and sensible system.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel announced details on how the U.K.’s new points-based immigration system will operate when it goes into effect.
The system is designed to cut the number of low-skilled migrants entering Britain from the beginning of next year, but also aims to make it easier for higher-skilled workers to get U.K. visas.
Points are given for English language ability, having a job offer from an approved employer, and meeting a minimum salary threshold.
In a written ministerial statement to the House of Commons, Patel announced a fast-track visa for National Health Service workers. Those who work in social care will not be eligible for the special visa.
The policy statement also said that foreigners who have been jailed for more than a year could be banned from coming to Britain under the new immigration rules. Anyone already in the U.K. faces deportation.
“Where the 12-month criminality deportation threshold is not met, a foreign criminal will still be considered for deportation where it is conducive to the public good, including where they have serious or persistent criminality,” the statement said.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan immediately challenged the plans, expressing concern that the government “is pulling up the drawbridge to much of the talent we continue to need as a city and a country.”
Worse still, he said, was the government’s refusal to extend the Brexit transition period at a time of global pandemic. He said this would be a burden on businesses who now have the potential of a no-deal Brexit together with the pandemic.
“Rushing through these proposals during the middle of a global pandemic is particularly irresponsible, and shows the government once again putting political dogma ahead of what the country needs,” he said in a statement.