Confusion reigns over May’s migration policy

by Hugo Dixon | 12.01.2017

Theresa May denied that her Brexit thinking is “muddled” after our former EU ambassador suggested it was. But the government’s migration plans post-Brexit, at any rate, seem mightily confused.

The immigration minister, Robert Goodwill, yesterday floated the idea of charging firms that employ skilled EU workers £1,000 a year in order to encourage them to hire locally. Such a tax is being brought in for companies that hire non-EU workers from April. But, after a backlash from business, Downing Street poured cold water on Goodwill’s idea – saying a levy was “not on the government’s agenda”.

Lynx-eyed observers, though, will notice that May hasn’t actually denied Goodwill’s proposal. So the idea may not be totally dead.

In some respects, the government is in a similar position to where it stood during the Tory party conference when it appeared to be suggesting that firms which employed foreigners could be named and shamed. After the proposal provoked rage among business as well as our EU allies and even many Brexit supporters, it backtracked saying it was just an idea. If Goodwill’s tax were ever to be adopted, the government would at the very least need to gather data on how many EU citizens work for each firm.

Hard Brexiters may like the idea on the basis that it would put EU and non-EU workers on a level playing field while favouring locals. However, it would guarantee that the upcoming Brexit talks, which are likely to be tricky in the best scenario, are acrimonious. Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, tweeted that he was shocked.

Given that the EU is by far our largest trading partner as well as shares many of our values, it surely makes sense to aim for some sort of special relationship on trade post-Brexit. That, in turn, probably means some sort of special relationship on movement of people. Hopefully, Goodwill’s idea isn’t just dormant, but dead.

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    Categories: Migration, Uncategorised