Lord Green is Chairman of MigrationWatch UK and a cross-bench peer.
Amidst the drama over trade talks immigration, a key factor in the outcome of the referendum, has almost disappeared from sight. Such discussion as has taken place has been focused on the rights of EU citizens in other member states. This is certainly important, but there are wider issues to be tackled. Below are ten key points for ministers keep at the forefront of their minds in the next phase of negotiations.
- Net migration statistics for the first full year since the referendum showed a drop of 100,000, of which 80,000 was a reduction in EU net migration. However, there is still a net inflow from the EU of 100,000 and there are more EU-born workers in the labour market than ever before – over 2.4 million.
- Even zero net migration, which no-one is proposing, would mean that the existing stock of EU workers would be maintained. It would be the equivalent of “one in, one out”. Cries of dismay from industry are overdone.
- Immigration was clearly a decisive factor in the referendum result. Ipsos MORI found it to be by far the most important issue for voters in June 2016 (11 points ahead of the NHS and 21 points ahead of the economy).
- The term “control” was crucial to Vote Leave but that, for many, meant a reduction. Failure to achieve this would risk generating a strong sense of betrayal among those who voted for Brexit and many others.
- Brexit is a major opportunity to get net migration down by perhaps 100,000 a year by cutting out EU migration into lower-skilled work.
- Highly skilled EU migrants may indeed be vital to the British economy, but there is no real evidence of benefits from EU migration into lower-skilled work which, indeed, might also have hindered productivity growth. Over the last decade, productivity has barely grown despite the overall number of immigrant workers increasing by more than two million, and the migrant share of the workforce nearly doubling.
- We must take serious steps to expand the training of those already in the UK. There are 1.4 million unemployed people, and around a million part-time workers who would like more hours.
- 80 per cent of EU workers are not in the highly skilled categories. A system of work permits could cut, or taper very sharply, their numbers. (Those with intermediate skills could, perhaps, be admitted for a time-limited period with an annual charge on employers to encourage training for local replacements. Employers will not do enough on this front until it is in their financial interest to do so).
- Many employers are being subsidised by the taxpayer to employ migrants from the EU. Working age benefits for EEA nationals cost the Treasury £4.4 billion in 2014/15 or about £12 million per day. We do not hear about this from industry.
- Post-Brexit, ease of travel should be maintained for tourists, family visitors, business visitors and students from the EU. Also the present Youth Mobility Scheme could perhaps be extended to EU citizens aged between 18 and 30. They could stay for up to two years but there should be no extensions and no access to public funds.
Finally, Minister, it will be very easy to get bogged down in detail but it is essential to remember that the UK population is set to grow by nearly ten million over the next 25 years if net migration continues at around current levels. These practical recommendations outline how EU migration could be sharply reduced while preserving access for employers to the best and brightest from across the EU..