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Britain Wants to Know What EU Workers Do to the Economy

Updated on
  • Home Secretary Amber Rudd promises no Brexit cliff-edge
  • Britain to have new immigration system by 2019, says minister

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Theresa May’s government has commissioned a report assessing the impact of European Union workers on the British economy a year after she first took office, prompting questions as to why such a Brexit study wasn’t conducted earlier.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd has asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to assess the economic role of EU nationals as plans are developed to control migration from Europe after Brexit. The final study will be completed in September 2018, though the committee is urged to publish interim reports.

Rudd also confirmed the government intends to seek a transition period to implement the immigration changes and avoid a worst-case scenario. Writing in the Financial Times, she said the government “will ensure there is no ‘cliff edge’ once we leave the bloc.” Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond indicated on Wednesday that the U.K. wanted discussions with the EU over transitional arrangements to start as soon as September.

Rudd said in the FT on Thursday that she wants to control “the flow of migration from Europe while at the same time ensuring that we continue to attract people to the U.K. who benefit us economically, socially and culturally.” The Home Secretary added she had spoken to business leaders and employers over a range of industries who “value European citizens for labour, skills and ideas.”

Read more: U.K. businesses are struggling to replace the migrant workers

Their views, she said, would be taken into account as well as the evidence from the Migration Advisory Committee, when shaping future immigration policy. The government will lay out some of the options in the Fall.

Lead Time

Any transition deal will require the agreement of the 27 other EU governments. With 20 months to go before the deadline, progress on a potential deal with the EU has been slow. All of the contentious issues that must be resolved before the EU agrees to debate its future trade relationship with Britain are still open, and there’s no formal meeting to tackle them until the last week of August.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today program, immigration minister Brandon Lewis said the Conservative commitment to reducing net migration to tens of thousands remained in place and suggested that the Conservatives would aim to have a new system in operation by the time Britain leaves the bloc.

“There will be a new immigration system in place from the spring of 2019 and that will be outlined in the immigration bill,” he said.

Rudd’s call for phased implementation was welcomed by business groups. A sufficient transition “would provide smaller firms with enough time to prepare for any incoming immigration system,” Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said.

Read more: Glacial pace of Brexit talks set to slow to a halt

The Home Office asked the committee to focus on patterns of EU and European Economic Area migration, looking at regional distribution, skill levels, industry sectors and the role of the self-employed, part-time, agency, temporary and seasonal workers.

The U.K. is “working towards the goal of achieving sustainable levels of net migration,” Rudd wrote in a letter to Alan Manning, the committee’s chair. Under a future system, “we will be able to apply different immigration rules and requirements according to the U.K.’s economic and social needs,” she added.

Bloomberg’s Paul Allen reports on the latest news of the hour on "Bloomberg Daybreak Asia"

(Source: Bloomberg)

"The government needs to explain why this study wasn’t commissioned a year ago, directly after the referendum,” Liberal Democrat spokesman for home affairs Ed Davey said. “The National Health Service, businesses and universities that depend on European citizens need answers now, not in another 14 months’ time.”

Labour lawmaker Ian Murray, a supporter of Open Britain, a group campaigning for the closest possible ties with the EU, also said the report should have been commissioned as soon as May first took office last year.

“The government needs to recognize the scale of the contribution made by EU nationals in this country and rule out any post-Brexit immigration system that would discourage them from continuing their vital work in our economy,” Murray said. “Ministers should start by dropping their unachievable target of cutting net annual migration to the tens of thousands.”

(Adds immigration minister comments from 7th paragraph.)
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