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Analysis

MPs must see new migration plans before Brexit

by Luke Lythgoe | 06.02.2018

Migration was perhaps the most important factor in 2016’s Leave vote, with Brexiters working hard to stoke voters’ fears. It would therefore be a democratic outrage if MPs – the elected representatives of the people – were told to vote on the final Brexit deal before knowing the shape of our long-term immigration policy. And yet that’s what the government’s vague timetable suggests will happen.

The government is expected to lay out its migration plans in a white paper. This was originally scheduled for summer 2017. However, in an interview with BBC’s Today programme (listen from 2:18:00), Amber Rudd appears to have postponed it once more.

The home secretary said the white paper was expected “before the end of the year”. But when pressed on whether it will be available before Brexit takes place in March 2019, she only said that this was “likely”.

MPs must be fully informed when voting on Theresa May’s final Brexit deal. This vote will probably come in the autumn, with the EU keen to wrap up talks in October in time for the European Parliament to ratify the deal. Publishing the migration white paper at the end of the year, or even into next year, would be too late.

Whatever type of regime the government plumps for, pro-Europeans will have strong arguments to counter it.

If restrictions on EU citizens entering the UK match those currently experienced by non-EU workers, then our economy is in for a rough ride. We rely on skilled EU workers to keep our industries humming, not to mention EU nurses and doctors to help run our NHS. Restrictive policies will dissuade people from coming to the UK, especially when they can move freely in 27 other European countries. We’re already seeing the Brexit effect on EU workers, with net migration from the EU down to just 9,000 according to the most recent figures. Punitive new policies will only drive this lower.

On the other hand, if there is a lighter-touch regime, whereby EU citizens still get preferential treatment but maybe have to register or can only stay if they find work, then Brexit arguably makes even less sense. Why would we diminish our economy by wrenching ourselves out of the single market for the sake of some fairly minor migration reforms, many of which can be implemented from within the EU already?

The government’s strategy of vagueness and delays cannot be allowed to continue. Promising MPs a “meaningful vote” and then failing to provide even a basic picture of post-Brexit Britain would be an affront to democracy. Pro-Europeans must pile on the pressure now to make sure people have all the facts. And if they don’t like them, it’s still not too late to step back from the Brexit brink.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon