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Government should build migration consensus and engage in open debate

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Government has not attempted to build consensus on immigration reform

The Committee has criticised the Government’s failure to set out detail on post-Brexit migration policy or to build consensus on immigration reform despite having over two years since the referendum in which to do so.

Continued delays to the publication of the White Paper on Immigration and the Immigration Bill has meant there is little indication of what immigration policy will be. Despite the fact that the issue was subject to heated and divisive debate during the referendum campaigns in 2016 the Government has not attempted to build consensus on immigration reform or consult the public over future migration policy in the two years since. The Committee believes this is a regrettable missed opportunity.

Migration policy now risks being caught up in a rushed and highly politicised debate

The Committee warns that migration policy now risks being caught up in a rushed and highly politicised debate in the run up to the vote on the withdrawal agreement and it cautions all those involved in the Brexit debate on the withdrawal agreement not to exploit or escalate tensions over immigration in the coming months.

EU migration is an important part of UK history. The need for a good economic deal, the fact that the EU is our closest neighbour and trading partner, UK skills needs and shared economic, social and cultural bonds all mean that EU migration will remain important in future. The committee cautions the Government against implying that the only EEA migration post-Brexit will be in the limited categories referred to in the Withdrawal White Paper, as that is not conducive to an honest or open debate. Nor should the Government make meeting the net migration target an objective of EEA migration policy as it is not working and should be replaced.

In the absence of detail from the Government, the Committee has explored a range of post-Brexit immigration policy options which are set out in this report for Parliament and the public to inform the debate, including on the trade-offs between migration and trade. The Committee will wait for the Migration Advisory Committee’s report in the autumn before making further recommendations, and calls on the Government to consult on options.

Three broad sets of policy options explored

The interim report looks at three broad sets of policy options:

  • Within the EU and during transition there are further measures that could be taken, in particular on registration, enforcement, skills and labour market reform. As witnesses noted, the UK has opted not to take up measures which are possible.
  • Within an EFTA-style arrangement with close or full participation in the single market, the report highlights a range of further measures that might be possible – especially in a bespoke negotiated agreement. These include ‘emergency brake’ provisions, controls on access to the UK labour market, accession style controls and further measures which build on the negotiation carried out by the previous Prime Minister. We conclude that there are a series of options for significant immigration reform that should be explored by the Government.
  • Within an association agreement or free trade agreement, the options in part depend on how close such an agreement is. While any agreement itself may not cover many ‘labour mobility’ measures, the government will still need to make decisions about long-term migration, including for work, family and study.

Calling for a measured debate and consultation on immigration options

Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP, said:

“Immigration was one of the central issues during the referendum and it divided the country, but sadly there has been no attempt by the Government to hold any kind of sensible debate on it or build any kind of consensus on immigration since. That is deeply disappointing and it has left a vacuum—and it’s really important that people don’t exploit that again.

The misinformation and tensions over immigration during the referendum campaign were deeply damaging and divisive. It is essential that does not happen again, and those who exploited concerns over immigration during the referendum need to be more honest and more responsible when it is debated in the run up to the final deal.

We are calling for a measured debate and consultation on immigration options instead.

We found there were a much wider range of possible precedents and options for immigration reform than people often talk about – including options that could be combined with participation in the single market – that we believe the Government should be exploring further now.”

Interim findings and recommendations include:

  • The net migration target should not be an objective of EU migration policy.
  • Refusing to discuss reciprocal immigration arrangements with the EU will make it much harder to get a close economic partnership. Geography, shared economic, social and cultural bonds between the UK and EU mean we will need a distinct and reciprocal arrangement for EU migration that is linked to our economic relationship.
  • The Government has not considered the range of possible immigration measures and safeguards that could allow the UK to participate in the single market while putting in place new immigration controls. It should immediately do so. Should the Government change its red lines, there are a series of options which could provide a basis for greater control on migration within the single market.
  • Even whilst in the EU and during the transition there are immigration reform measures that the UK has not taken up – in particular on registration, enforcement, skills and labour market reforms to address lack of skills, exploitation or undercutting.
  • Irrespective of the future EU relationship, the Government should seek to improve labour market conditions. Regulation of the labour market, further measures to prevent exploitation and increased funding for enforcement would benefit both domestic and migrant workers, subject to practical arrangements with business.
  • Within a Free Trade Agreement the options depend on how close the agreement is, but it is not the case that an FTA would necessarily mean limited migration. A free trade agreement along the lines of CETA would only require limited immigration provisions, but decisions would still have to be made on long-term migration from the EU and there would still be pressure for educational, high and low skilled, seasonal and family migration that the government would need to address.
  • The DCFTA between the Ukraine and the EU gives a precedent for partial integration in the single market without requiring the free movement of people. The European Commission has said there can be no ‘cherry-picking’ of the four freedoms of the single market, however this is a political judgement rather than a technical or legal obstacle. The Committee notes that the EU-Ukraine package was agreed in the context of Ukraine moving towards the EU, rather than away, and the European Commission has so far insisted that, for the UK-EU negotiations, the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible.
  • Whatever the Government’s intentions for EU migration, it should overhaul immigration arrangements for non-EEA nationals about which the Committee received many complaints. We heard considerable evidence of problems that would arise if arrangements for non-EU migration were applied for EU migration.  The Government should also introduce a Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme as soon as possible.


Suggestions and examples of policy options for future migration from the EEA raised by witnesses to the Select Committee’s inquiry included:

1. Existing applicable controls

  • Registration of EEA citizens within free movement rules combined with comprehensive and accurate exit checks would help the Government monitor and manage migration
  • Linking the right to residency to self-sufficiency, as after 3 months an EU national’s right to remain becomes conditional on working, being self-employed or having sufficient own resources.
  • Labour market reforms including those operated elsewhere in the EU could address demand for overseas labour by preventing undercutting and addressing skills shortages. Examples given to the committee included:
    – The Swiss resident labour market permit
    – Norwegian ID cards indicating employment status
    – Expanding inspections of working conditions (Switzerland inspects 10% of companies compared to 0.2% in UK)
    – Collective bargaining agreements like those in Norway and Switzerland
    – Greater regulation of employment agencies and intermediaries
    – Increase in resources and expansion of the remit of the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EAS)
    – Enforcement or abolition of the Swedish derogation on agency working
    – Stronger penalties on non-compliant employers
    – State enforcement of holiday pay
    – Extension of the Gangmaster and Licensing Abuse Authority’s licensing scheme to high-risk sectors
    – Joint liability in supply chains
    – A mandatory statement of rights for all workers within a week of employment commencing
    – Extension of the right to a payslip for all workers, and mandatory inclusion of total hours worked and pay rate for hourly-paid workers

2. Controls within an EFTA-style framework

  • The safeguard clause embedded in Articles 112 and 113 of the EEA Agreement, or a version of it, allows for the unilateral application of an emergency brake on free movement from EEA countries in circumstances of “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectoral or regional nature” while other EEA members may take rebalancing measures under Article 114.
  • The suspension by Liechtenstein of free movement since 1998 and the substitution of quotas, derived from the emergency brake provisions of the EEA Agreement.
  • The Swiss Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons permitted the Swiss Government to invoke a safeguard clause reintroducing quotas on EU immigration, which was used in 2012 and 2013.
  • Swiss arrangements to prioritising domestic recruitment in sectors and regions facing migration pressures, on the basis of the new law negotiated after the 2014 referendum “against mass immigration”.
  • Transitional-style controls, such as those which have restricted the access of Croatian citizens to the labour markets of EU countries since 2011, or a scheme based on these arrangements as proposed by Professor Catherine Barnard and Sarah Fraser Butlin
  • The agreement reached by the UK Government as part of the ‘Cameron negotiations’, which restricted the access of EU citizens to benefits in the UK
  • A national emergency brake, as proposed by former Swiss State Secretary Michael Ambühl, which would allow the activation of an emergency brake if inward migration to the UK from the EEA was exceptionally high relative to other EU Member States.
  • A regional emergency brake, as suggested by Catherine Barnard, exercisable by devolved administrators and at a regional level to impose restrictions on migration for a time limited period, based on economic data, demand for public services and other criteria.
  • A ‘prior job offer’ system, in which jobseekers did not have the right to reside in the UK unless they already had an offer of employment.

3. Other free trade options

  • A Ukraine-style deep and comprehensive free trade area, on the basis of precedent for partial integration in the single market without requiring the free movement of people
  • A Canada-style free trade agreement, requiring limited immigration provisions but allowing for a wide range of possible immigration rules
  • Extending the non-EEA Tier structure to include EEA nationals, or overhauling the UK’s immigration arrangements for both EEA and non-EEA nationals
  • Extending the Tier 5 temporary workers and youth mobility scheme for 18-30 year olds to include EEA citizens
  • Considering a new Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme to give the agricultural sector privileged access to workers
  • A regional immigration system, to give regions and local areas flexibility in their approach to EEA (and non-EEA) workers


Source: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/home-affairs-committee/news-parliament-2017/post-brexit-migration-report-published-17-19/

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