Author: Mark Kleinman
Proposals to reform Britain’s immigration rules after Brexit will damage Britain’s embattled retail sector and expose it to rules which are “costly, burdensome and slow,” the industry’s leading lobbying group has warned the Home Secretary.
Sky News has obtained a letter from Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), to Sajid Javid highlighting “serious concern” about the recent blueprint published by the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).
In a report published last month, the MAC recommended that foreign workers earning less than £30,000-a-year should be prevented from obtaining visas after the UK leaves the European Union.
Under its proposals, only “higher-skilled” people should be subject to a “less restrictive regime”, while it did not “see the need for a work-related scheme” for lower-skilled workers.
The MAC report drew immediate criticism from a spectrum of business leaders, but Ms Dickinson’s letter to Mr Javid goes significantly further, warning that up to 95% of the retail industry’s workforce would not meet the £30,000 salary threshold.
She pointed out that with 92,000 vacancies in the retail sector indicated by the latest data – 11% of the total job openings across the UK economy – the need for access to flexible labour was stark.
“In the context of the current labour market conditions, meeting this demand is difficult without resourcing from the widest possible labour pool.
“Without access to lower skilled workers from outside the UK that pool reduces significantly, and resourcing becomes even more challenging,” Ms Dickinson told the Home Secretary.
The debate about post-Brexit migration rules has polarised those determined for the UK to have complete sovereignty over the entry of foreign nationals and those who believe a degree of flexibility is an asset to the British economy.
In her letter, which was sent on Wednesday, Ms Dickinson said the industry she represents “recognises freedom of movement will end when the UK leaves the EU”.
She added: “The industry itself is going through a profound transformation that will impact the workforce.
“We have an opportunity to design a new immigration system that recognises the needs of industry, has the support of the public and ensures a clear focus on domestic skills development.”
Ms Dickinson added that the process would take time and it was “important the Home Office consider the labour market context as well as the economic when developing the new system”.
Under the MAC reforms, so-called Tier-2 visas for skilled workers would be extended to the European Economic Area – an idea that Ms Dickinson said was “also a cause for concern for retailers across the industry [because] the system is costly, burdensome and slow”.
“It also provides little certainty for employers due to the annual cap,” she added.