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Brexit Committee says future immigration system needs to be flexible enough to meet economy's needs

Date of Publication: 
4 April 2017

Cross-party Committee publishes detailed assessment of Government's EU White Paper.

Brexit Committee says future immigration system needs to be flexible enough to meet economy's needs

04 April 2017

Parliament's Exiting the European Union Committee has today released its report assessing the Government's stated negotiating objectives as set out in its EU White Paper.

The Committee's report is here (the Government's EU White Paper was released in February and can be read here).

In today's report, the Exiting the European Union Committee noted that the Government has indicated that a new Immigration Bill will be brought forward setting out the framework for the system to be adopted after the UK leaves the EU.

The Committee says the new arrangements for migration from the EU will need to be flexible enough to meet the needs of the economy across the UK, including a broad range of sectors, both high and low skilled.

In its section on immigration, the report states: "We agree with the Secretary of State that immigration from the EU has made an important contribution to many sectors of the economy in different parts of the country and that, while reducing net migration remains an objective of the Government, this should not be done in a way that damages the economy. The Government's objective is to secure control of EU migration and this may not entail reducing numbers. Future policy will be an important element in the forthcoming negotiations, given the linkage frequently made between 'free movement' and access to the Single Market. We look forward to scrutinising the proposals once the Immigration Bill has been published.

"We urge the Department for Exiting the EU to continue to make the argument in Government that the future system for EU migration needs to be flexible enough to meet the needs of the economy across the UK. This includes a broad range of different sectors, both high and low skilled, including scientists, bankers, vets, care workers, health service professionals and seasonal agriculture workers. That flexibility should include considering whether immigration should be managed on a geographic basis. We also note with concern the tendency of some employers to rely on importing skilled labour from abroad rather than training up UK employees."

On the subject of securing rights for EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU, the report stated: "The status of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals living elsewhere in the EU cannot be left unresolved until the end of the two-year period for negotiations. We reiterate the conclusion of our earlier Report that it would be unconscionable for the more than four million people in these groups to find themselves living in a state of uncertainty about their futures until negotiations are complete, and, therefore, that the Government 'should now make a unilateral decision to safeguard the rights of EU nationals living in the UK'. We note that, to date, Ministers have not taken this step. The debate around whether 'no deal is better than a bad deal' has focussed on the trade aspects of the future relationship. If the negotiations were to end prematurely without an agreement on the rights for the four million, this could put them in an uncertain position.

"We recommend that an agreement between the UK and EU27 is reached as a matter of priority once negotiations formally start. That agreement should be concluded as a stand-alone and separate deal which is otherwise not dependent on any other exit or future trade deal being agreed to between the parties.

"We welcome the intention of both the Secretary of State and Michel Barnier, the European Commission's Chief Negotiator for Brexit, to meet representatives from the EU nationals in the UK and the UK nationals who are resident across Europe in advance of the negotiations. This is an important development and we hope it is a positive step towards an early resolution of the uncertainty and anxiety of the four million across Europe."

Meanwhile, The Independent newspaper and the Open Britain group yesterday announced a new campaign to persuade the Government to abandon its target to reduce net migration below 100,000 a year.

The Independent says the "Drop the Target" campaign has won the backing of MPs across the political spectrum who believe the target will never be achieved and that doing so would damage the UK economy and leave the vulnerable worse off.

The campaign's open letter to the Government is here.

The letter says that EU workers "are indispensable to the UK workforce", and it would be "difficult and damaging … to make huge reductions in future numbers of EU migrants coming to the UK."

The Guardian reported today that Theresa May signalled that free movement of EU citizens could continue during a transitional phase after the UK leaves the European Union in spring 2019.