Government under fire over post-Brexit immigration white paper

Catherine Neilan
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The government came under fire for its post-Brexit immigration policy, after a Home Office white paper was leaked late on Tuesday.

Industries as wide ranging as leisure, construction and fruit pickers have piled in on suggestions that free movement would end in March 2019 with low skilled workers given a maximum of two years residency.

John Dickie, director of London First, said: "Bringing down the shutters without a credible plan to fill the massive skills gap would be economic self-harm." Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry added: "We need not only the 'brightest and best' but also the capacity to fill the skills shortage in a huge variety of sectors."

Read more: Leaked Home Office immigration proposals for after Brexit spark criticism

REC chief executive Kevin Green - who has issued a number of warnings about the pressures the construction sector is under - added: “Any changes that result in severe reductions in immigration, increased hiring costs or bureaucratic burdens on employers would put that continued success at risk and make all of us worse off.

“Sixty per cent of the whole UK work force would be classed as ‘low skilled’ as they earn under the qualifying threshold of £30,000... To get the best outcome for British workers and British businesses it’s important that the government focuses on evidence-based solutions.”

Laurence Olins, chairman of British Summer Fruits, the industry body representing fruit growers, said: “The report discusses implementing measures to drive down the number of low-skilled migrants from Europe but it does not reference a seasonal work permit scheme for seasonal labour. We have already highlighted how extreme it would get without a work permit scheme... Now it is the turn of government to give us the solution.”

Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, said the document suggested "a deep lack of understanding of the vital contribution that EU migrant workers make - at all skill levels - across the food chain".

Chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association Brigid Simmonds, agreed. “The UK's low unemployment rates are going to make it extremely hard to replace these employees with UK nationals. If there were to be a cap for EU employees, it must be at a level that can sustain our industry," she said.

Neil Carberry, CBI's managing director for people and infrastructure, called for a "guarantee [that] those already here that they can stay, a transition period with limited changes so firms can plan ahead, and a final system for the EU that is simpler and more open than the complex work permit system run for non-EEA countries."

Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market analyst at the CIPD, also warned of the jobs gap any restrictions would cause: "Some unskilled or low-skilled employers have no alternative than to recruit EU migrant labour due to the unattractiveness of certain roles or sectors to UK nationals and the tightness of the UK labour market in some regions."

Sam Bowman, executive director of the Adam Smith Institute, said the plans "would be a disaster".

"Requirements that firms prove that they have tried to hire British workers first don’t work in other countries, they just add bureaucracy and costs.

"EU migrants do not harm native wages or job prospects, and they pay more in taxes than they cost in benefits, effectively subsidising British public services. Curbing their numbers substantially will mean higher taxes or deeper spending cuts just to keep the public finances at their current level, and public services that rely on foreign workers – like schools and the NHS – will face shortages of key workers and need to cut spending on frontline services to fill in the gaps."

A government spokesman declined to comment "on leaked documents".

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