U.K. Immigration Plans Would Harm Economy, Business Chiefs Say

  • ‘We will not comply with such a policy,’ companies say
  • CBI chief tells Times that May risks closing door to business

U.K. government proposals to make companies list their foreign workers would harm the economy because they are “anti-business and dangerously naive,” more than 100 leaders of small and medium-sized businesses said in a letter to the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

“The ability to hire both British and non-British people has historically helped business grow by bringing in varied skills and perspectives,” the company chiefs wrote in the letter published Monday. Prime Minister Theresa May “cannot claim to be open to trade while demonizing workers from other countries, nor can she claim to be pro‑enterprise when her ministers use such anti-business rhetoric.”

Carolyn Fairbairn

Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd face a growing backlash against the plan, announced at their Conservative Party’s annual conference last week, to make companies detail the proportion of their workers that are foreign-born, in line with practice in the U.S. That’s led Rudd to row back on the policy, saying first that it’s only a proposal as part of a review, and adding in a statement on Sunday that the data wouldn’t be made public. 

The government came under further pressure on Monday when Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the country’s main business lobby, the CBI, told the Times newspaper that May risks “closing the door” on an open economy with her immigration policies. “The world is watching. International investors are watching,” she said.

Migration Target

May has touted Britain’s vote in June to leave the European Union as a mandate to crack down on immigration, an issue that was much cited by voters during the campaign. Rudd last week reiterated a Conservative election campaign pledge to bring net annual migration down to below 100,000 from more than 300,000 currently.

Cobra Beer Ltd. founder Karan Bilimoria, Solarcentury Holdings Ltd. founder Jeremy Leggett and TechHub Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Varley were among signatories to the letter in the Telegraph. 

“Amber Rudd’s plan would hurt the economy, hurt workers’ rights and hurt Britain’s standing as a tolerant country open for business,” they wrote. “As members of the business community, we will not comply with such a policy.”

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