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Analysis

We don’t need to quit EU to get better migration policy

by Luke Lythgoe | 18.09.2018

A long-awaited government report recommends restricting low-skilled EU workers and boosting migrants from elsewhere. There are better solutions.

The stand-out recommendation from the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is that free movement should end and workers arriving from the EU should be lumped in with non-EU workers, with more restrictions on low-skilled EU workers. This is sure to panic employers in those sectors which rely on low-skilled EU workers, for example hospitality, construction and social care.

What’s more, even following this report – commissioned by previous home secretary Amber Rudd over a year ago – we’re still none the wiser about the government’s migration policy.

A white paper is expected later in the year. A policy might even be trailed at the Conservative Party Conference, The Times suggests. Both Theresa May and home secretary Sajid Javid have made comments recently in line with the MAC’s recommendations. But, as the report notes, it’s still unclear whether free movement for EU citizens will become a bargaining chip as EU negotiations reach crunch point.

The MAC also suggests that the only way to limit EU migration without badly disrupting the economy is to scrap the current cap on medium and high skilled migrants from outside the EU. Will May really buy that policy as it would also mean tearing up her target to cut net migration each year to under 100,000?

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It is worth remembering that net migration from outside the EU is 235,000 – well over double what it is from inside the bloc. So there’s no way to hit the prime minister’s target without squeezing non-EU migration. But if we did that while also ending free movement from Europe, the economy will suffer.

It’s also worth noting that the MAC found no evidence that EU immigration had raised unemployment or lowered wages on average, with “significant uncertainty” even that lower-paid Brits have been affected. There was also no evidence of an adverse impact on crime levels, training opportunities or school places.

By contrast, EU migration has boosted productivity and innovation, and EU nationals are net contributors to the public finances and our public services. EU citizens contribute £2,300 more to the exchequer each year in net terms than the average adult, an analysis for the MAC by Oxford Economics has found.

What’s more, there are plenty of things we can do inside the EU to get a better grip on migration: registering EU arrivals, chucking out jobless EU nationals after a few months, prioritising local hires, clamping down on unscrupulous employers undercutting local wages.

But the worst thing for businesses right now is the uncertainty. Brexit is due six months from now. Employers need to plan ahead, but right now they have almost no idea what type of labour market they’ll be operating in. No wonder investment has dried up and firms are upping sticks.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

One Response to “We don’t need to quit EU to get better migration policy”

  • Sadly the majority of people who voted leave did so because of migration. If David Cameron had done his homework properly, he would have realised that as another EU citizen you cannot move to Belgium without a job. Belgium is the centre of the EU and one of the founding members. If it is OK for them, it is OK for us. Why didn’t Cameron secure that agreement for the UK? If he had the vote would have gone the other way. The remain vote also failed to point out the difference between Immigration from outside the EU and that from inside. Leaving the EU will make no difference to the immigration from outside the EU which is far higher. Finally if we all had ID cards then we would know who should be here and who should not. We hear all about liberty etc., but most other EU countries have ID cards and many UK citizens have passports so what is the problem?