Theresa May's government has shown no signs of budging on its commitment to slash net migration to the tens of thousands, despite today's Queen's speech which made no mention to the specifics of the Immigration Bill.
Her Majesty said that a bill would be introduced to repeal the European Communities Act, which would be “complemented by legislation to ensure that the United Kingdom makes a success of Brexit, establishing new national policies on immigration”.
The Queen later added that the government would “lead efforts to reform the international system to improve the United Kingdom’s ability to tackle mass migration”.
But there was no mention of numbers, until a Number 10 spokesperson later reaffirmed that Prime Minister Theresa May was “committed to reducing net migration to a sustainable level, in the tens of thousands”.
Calls for increased transparency and certainty were redoubled as the speech drew to a close.
“Employers now urgently need clarity on what a new system will look like – such as the inclusion of a preferential route for EU migrants – as it will affect their willingness to invest in the UK,” said Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry.
“If the UK is to be able to meet changing labour needs, a blunt cap is the wrong approach. Business and the government should work together to build a model that’s fit for purpose.”
The affirmation comes as May prepares to head to Brussels tomorrow, where she is expected to offer to protect the rights of European nationals as part of Brexit negotiations.
Other industry bodies were less conciliatory. Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders which represents the construction industry, said that the Immigration Bill would end the free movement of people “but begs the question: what will replace it?”
He added: “The government has not set out what our post-Brexit immigration system will look like but it is crucial that key strategic industries, such as construction, are able to draw upon sufficient numbers of EU workers.
“EU tradespeople have come to play a crucial part in plugging the industry’s chronic skills gap.”
Many feel that the Prime Minister is not paying due regard to immigration's role in the UK economy.
“The needs of the economy must be at the heart of this once-in-a-generation overhaul of the UK’s immigration system,” said Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce.
“While businesses accept the need for controls over migration flows, they want clear assurances that they will be able to recruit from overseas to fill vacancies when they are unable to find or train suitable candidates here at home.”
May has come under increasing pressure to drop the tens of thousands net migration goal, as members of her own party have urged her to prioritise the economy.
Even Andrea Leadsom, the prominent Brexiteer who campaigned strongly for migration reductions during the campaign to leave the EU, has told farmers this year that she knew “how important seasonal labour from the EU is, to the everyday running of your businesses”, and was committed to making sure farmers “have the right people with the right skills”.