1. The long silence on arrangements for future access to the UK for EU workers needs to be brought to an end. This paper recommends objectives for a new immigration regime. A system of work permits would meet the needs of industry while also achieving a substantial reduction in net migration from the EU. Some transition arrangements may be needed for construction workers as well as a scheme for Seasonal Agricultural Workers. There should be a minimum of formalities for EU citizens visiting the UK for business, tourism, study and family purposes. These matters should be kept separate from the trade negotiations. There is also a strong economic case for the measures proposed.
2. The present situation is confused by the government’s continued silence on what they envisage for our post-Brexit immigration arrangements. A white paper has long been promised but has still not been delivered. This leaves the field wide open for concessions which could well undermine attempts to control immigration from the EU. The most recent immigration statistics (for the year to September 2017) showed a drop of 75,000 compared to the same period in 2016 but there was still a net inflow of 90,000. Many factors affect these numbers but part of the drop might well have been due to Brexit uncertainty which is likely to be reversed. Meanwhile, public opinion remains solid. 70% of the public want to see EU immigration cut by a considerable amount and it is clear that the desire to control immigration was a major – some would say a crucial – factor in the outcome of the referendum. For many, if not most, that also meant a significant reduction. This paper outlines the objectives that should be set, how they might be achieved and the economic case that supports them.
3. The following should be the main policy objectives:
4. Freedom of movement must end, as was promised by both the Labour and Conservative manifestos in 2017. Failure to achieve this would also clearly dishonour the referendum result. The crux will be to meet industry’s genuine needs and minimise disruption while achieving a major reduction in numbers. The key to such a reduction lies at the lower skill levels which account for 80% of those EU workers who arrived in the decade up to 2016. At their peak inflow they amounted to about 100,000 a year.
5. The existing Tier-2 work permit system, which has worked effectively since its inception in April 2011, should be expanded to include EU workers. The current yearly cap of 20,700 would have to be increased and could be reviewed annually. As about 80% of EU workers would not qualify for a Tier 2 (General) work permit, a significant reduction in net migration could be achieved.
6. This work permit system should be extended for EU migrants as follows:
7. EU citizens should continue to be able to visit the UK without hindrance for the purposes of business, tourism, study and family visits. (However, if the EU were to apply its forthcoming Advance Passenger Notification Scheme – ETIAS - to UK nationals, the UK should probably do the same).
8. The EU negotiating directive already speaks of an “ambitious approach to the movement of natural persons” (that is EU jargon for people as opposed to companies). Apparently, there was at one point a substantial majority of the Cabinet Brexit Committee in favour of allowing EU workers to come to Britain in similar numbers as at present provided that they had a firm job offer. The purpose seemed to be to exchange concessions on immigration for EU concessions on trade. These proposals would, however, be a slippery slope and be extremely dangerous for the government’s credibility. To allow entry for work to all those who had a “firm” job offer would have no effect at all in reducing the numbers. It would simply result in a boom for employment agencies which already advertise extensively in Eastern Europe and it would do nothing about the many EU workers who already find their jobs through friends and relatives. Such a concession would apply to the less highly skilled and would, in practice, amount to continued unlimited inflows of EU workers. Employers would, of course, welcome it.
9. So far attention has been focussed on the problems flowing from the movement of goods across the land border. Ireland intends to remain in the Common Travel Area (CTA) with the UK and will not join the Schengen Zone of free movement. However, EU citizens will continue to have free movement to Ireland. The question may arise, therefore, as to whether Ireland will become a back door to the UK by reason of its open land border with Northern Ireland. If the recommendations of this paper are accepted, there will be no problem in relation to EU citizens as they would be able to travel directly to England, Scotland or Wales.
10. The position in relation to non-EU travellers would be no different from the present. If they were to use Ireland as a back door to there would have to be additional measures put in place. Checks at UK airports and ferry ports are undertaken on a risk-assessed basis by the UK Border Force and in-country by the Immigration Group (both parts of the UK Border Agency). This was described in a 2011 report on the CTA by the Independent Chief Inspector of the Border Agency. Transport operators also make it clear to travellers that they should carry their passport or national identity card in case they need to prove their status as UK or Irish nationals (and thus as free to travel within the CTA). This work is carried out under the banner of 'Operation Gull' which also involves in-country checks. Immigration controls are not carried out at the land border, no doubt because the strategic approach is to rely on a combination of 'hostile environment' and in-country checks. There are formal agreements between the UK and Irish governments aimed at securing the external borders of the CTA precisely to ensure that people cannot enter one country with the intention of entering the other illegally. However, a recent media report has pointed to weaknesses in enforcement which have been exploited by people smugglers to bring people illegally into the UK. There is detail on the arrangements with Ireland and on the implications for Brexit in a recent briefing note from the House of Commons Library published in June 2017.
11. The Home Office already have the massive task of registering 3.8 million EU citizens already in the UK. Each year there are about 35 million EU citizens arriving in the UK so there will have to be a substantial increase in resources to provide the necessary oversight of employers who might be tempted to employ EU citizens who had arrived after the transition period and might well not have the right to work.
12. 80% of European workers who have arrived in the decade up to 2016 are in lower paid work. A sharp and long-term reduction would be beneficial to our society:
13. Suggestions that there would be harm to the economy are unsupported by the evidence:
14. There is a feasible way forward which can achieve a substantial reduction in EU net migration to the UK while ensuring access to the skills needed by British industry. Some transitional arrangements will be necessary but the eventual result would be a reduction in our population growth and improvements for the lower paid UK work force as well as a potential improvement in productivity.
27 June, 2018