A LARGE swathe of British industry could be forced to shut down without a regular influx of low-skilled labour continuing after Brexit according to the IoD’s outgoing director Simon Walker.
Speaking to The Sunday Times, Walker has argued strongly against restricting low-skilled immigration to the UK, just weeks before he is due to take up a role as lead non-exec board member within the new Department for International Trade. The department is led by Liam Fox MP, a former Defence Secretary and a major supporter of the campaign to leave the EU.
“One of the best things, if not the best thing, about the EU has been freedom of movement," said Walker. “The reality is an advanced welfare state can’t operate without low-skilled but hardworking labour. That is generally a need fulfilled by migrants. If they don’t come from Europe, they will need to come from somewhere else”.
The UK Government remains committed to reducing the yearly net migration figure to “tens of thousands” and is making a significant fall in the number of EU migrants a high priority when formal negotiations with EU chiefs begin in March next year.
The country’s net migration numbers reached a record high in 2015/2016, with 335,000 arriving in the year to June, and migrants from the EU making up just under half the total.
The IoD officially remained neutral during the referendum campaign, but Walker has been more outspoken in its aftermath. In September, he criticised comments by the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, when he said that British businesses had become “fat and lazy”. Walker has also advised against using the future of EU citizens within the UK as part of the country’s negotiating strategy with the EU institutions, telling the Sunday Times, “these people ought not to be living in fear”.
The Department for International Trade was established following the UK’s vote to leave the EU and has a remit to explore future trading opportunities after the UK leaves the trading bloc. The UK cannot currently sign new free trade deals as these have to be negotiated through the European Commission, but Fox and others have spoken to non-EU states about potential new arrangements after the UK leaves the EU.
Speaking to The Andrew Marr Show at the weekend, Liam Fox told viewers that any transitional relationship with the EU would need to be a major break from current arrangements and refused to offer unqualified support for continued membership of the customs union.