Brussels has launched legal action against the UK for its “failure to comply” with European Union rules on free movement.
The European Commission sent a formal notice to the UK – the first stage of infringement proceedings – giving the UK Government four months to “address the shortcomings” it has identified.
Infringement proceedings are launched when an EU country fails to implement EU law, and can lead to the European Court of Justice imposing financial penalties.
The UK has failed to “comply with EU law on the free movement of EU citizens and their family members”, according to the infringement decision.
It states: “UK national legislation limits the scope of beneficiaries of EU free movement law in the United Kingdom as well as the possibilities for EU citizens and their family members to appeal administrative decisions restricting free movement rights.
“The Commission considers that the United Kingdom has thereby breached the Free Movement Directive 2004/38/EC as well as EU rules on freedom of movement of EU citizens (Article 21 TFEU), freedom of movement of workers (Article 45 TFEU) and freedom of establishment (Article 49 TFEU).
“EU law on free movement of persons continues to apply to and in the United Kingdom as if it were still an EU Member State during the transition period.
“Furthermore, the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK after the end of the transition period, as set out in the Withdrawal Agreement, are built on the rights that they currently enjoy in the United Kingdom under EU rules.”
It added: “The United Kingdom’s shortcomings in the implementation and transposition of EU free movement law risks therefore also affecting the implementation of the citizens’ rights under the Withdrawal Agreement after the end of the transition period.
“For these reasons, the Commission decided to send a letter of formal notice to the United Kingdom – the first step in the infringement process.
“The United Kingdom now has four months to take the necessary measures to address the shortcomings identified by the Commission. Otherwise, the Commission may send a reasoned opinion to the UK authorities.”
Commission spokesman Christian Wigand told a Brussels press briefing: “In this specific case, the commission considers that the United Kingdom has failed to notify its last five legislative instruments for the transposition of the free movement directive, its national rules transposing the safeguards prescribed by the directive for certain individual decisions restricting free movement, as well as correspondence tables.
“On substance, the commission is of the view that the United Kingdom has, over the last few years, limited the scope of beneficiaries of EU free movement law in the United Kingdom as well as the possibilities for EU citizens and their family members to appeal administrative decisions restricting free movement rights.”
The UK Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We will look at what the EU has to say and we will respond in due course.”
The UK formally left the EU on January 31 but is now in a transition period during which it follows Brussels’ rules without having a say in how they are made.