30 November, 2016
1. There is a perfectly feasible way forward on immigration which meets the main concerns of all participants, except for some relating to new arrivals of low paid migrant workers. Early publication of the UK’s objectives (but not the strategy) would help calm concerns without weakening our hand.
2. In advance of the opening of negotiations there is widespread uncertainty about the outcome on immigration. Some of this could be dispelled if HMG were to outline their objectives as is now being called for in Parliament. Indeed, many of them are unlikely to be a cause of dispute. Publication need not affect possible linkage with trade aspects although this is best avoided as there are no concessions on immigration that could attract significant concessions on trade.
3. Independent states do not normally negotiate their immigration policies with other states. Indeed the Government have already made it clear that UK immigration policy will be decided by the British Government. However, given the extensive relationships that have been built up over decades with Continuing EU member states, it would make sense to reach an understanding on how each side intends to proceed.
4. Accordingly, this paper considers the objectives that the UK should select and their negotiability.
5. The objectives should be as follows:
6. All sides have an interest in minimising economic and social disruption. There should, therefore, be no particular difficulty about objectives a), b), c) and f).
7. It is also the case that a two way flow of skilled workers is advantageous to all sides. This could be arranged by the inclusion of EU citizens in the current UK work permit regime (d). In return, we could accept that British citizens wishing to work in the EU would be brought under the EU’s Blue Card scheme.
8. The main bone of contention will be the denial of access by EU workers to low paid jobs in the UK. This will be important to East European members for political as well as economic reasons. However, to grant this on any scale would be to fly in the face of the referendum result. At a later stage it might be possible to offer a scheme for agricultural workers provided that it was for seasonal workers, was capped and was limited to a six month stay. A highly selective key workers scheme might also be helpful (e).
9. As for the EU “principle” that free trade necessitates free movement of people, it is clear that this has already been breached by their agreements with the Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.
10. The present UK immigration system could, quite readily, be expanded and adapted to include those EU citizens, mainly workers, for which a measure of control would be needed. The details are outside the scope of this paper.
11. The main concerns of the Devolved Administrations are for tourists, students and skilled workers. The first two would not be affected and any limit for skilled workers could be set at a level that did not cause any difficulty for these administrations. For example, the number of skilled Tier 2 work permits granted for firms in Scotland is of the order of 2,500 a year. A key workers scheme could also be applied to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
12. None of these broad objectives would come as any surprise to our EU partners but they would provide a framework for taking the dialogue forward, as well as reassurance to the many British people concerned about uncontrolled immigration from the EU. Indeed, we estimate that a system based on these ten points would see a significant fall in EU net migration of the order of 100,000 each year. There is therefore a good case for publishing the UK’s objectives on the lines summarised above.