Britain needs sensibly managed migration which gives the economy the overseas labour it needs and retains broad public support

Britain needs sensibly managed migration which gives the economy the overseas labour it needs and retains broad public support

The image of post-Brexit Britain is being set by Remainers and is far too pessimistic and wrong. In Clean Brexit we outline an achievable vision that is positive for the economy and for future living standards. To make the most of Brexit we need to get right three important areas: our future relationship with the EU; our position with the rest of the world; and our domestic economic agenda.

Although the way people vote can be driven by multiple factors, three issues appeared most important in driving the Brexit vote last year: sovereignty, the economy and immigration.

What then should be our approach to migration? Not only is this vital in responding to issues raised during the Referendum, it will be crucial for our future economic performance too.

A policy of sensibly managed immigration is needed, including treating potential immigrants to the UK on their individual merits, wherever they come from.

While immigration has economic and cultural benefits, the scale of UK immigration in recent years has become a legitimate and contentious concern for millions of British voters.

During the 1950s, net immigration into the UK averaged less than 10,000 per year. It then became negative during the 1960s and 1970s, as emigration from the UK rose. During the 1980s, net immigration became positive again, averaging 7,500 people per annum. Between 1990 and 1999 though, after freedom of movement was enshrined in EU law as part of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, average net UK immigration shot up to 62,500 people per year, an eightfold increase on the decade before. An even more dramatic rise occurred after 2004, when eight Eastern European states became EU members – with Britain a strong advocate of enlargement.

Unlike most existing EU states, the UK, along with Ireland and Sweden, decided not to impose temporary labour market restrictions on workers from these new members. A study commissioned by the Home Office predicted in 2003 that average annual net immigration from the so-called A8 new members would be ‘relatively small, at between 5,000 and 13,000 immigrants per year up to 2010’. The actual outcome was rather different.

Between 2004 and 2016, UK net immigration has totalled no fewer than 3,277,000 on official figures, a yearly average of over 252,000. This represents a migration-driven population increase, in each of the last thirteen years, equivalent to a city the size of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Low-skilled work accounts for 13 million jobs in the UK, 43 per cent of those in employment. Just over 2 million of those low-skilled jobs, around 16 per cent, are performed by migrant workers. For workers in low-skilled trades, wages have been suppressed in some localities due to immigration, even if the impact on national average wages appears not to have been large. Increased immigration has also added to pressure on public services and housing costs. The positive contribution many migrants have made has also exposed other challenges for the UK, not least the need to ensure that more vocational skills are created here at home, through vocational training. We also attract many skilled migrants too. All of this adds to the necessity to agree on EU citizens’ rights as soon as possible.

There is little doubt that Britain needs to return to a system of managed immigration – designed by UK ministers, with the legislation passing through Parliament in the normal way. This will allow us to access the overseas labour the economy needs, while retaining broad public support for immigration. As the rest of the EU struggles with a Schengen arrangement that is sapping confidence, fuelling intolerance and nationalism, the UK has a chance to put its immigration policy, and the nation’s inherently positive and generous attitude to migrants, back on a stable footing. Negotiations over single market membership must not stop that from happening – which is one reason we advocate a Clean Brexit.

Immigration into the UK from outside the EU has been on a declining trend in recent years but remains substantial. For over a decade, though, generally falling non-EU net immigration has been more than offset by the rise in immigration from the rest of the EU.

In Clean Brexit we explore also some of the options ahead. One is that Britain adopts a points-based system (PBS), used in Australia and elsewhere. This selects migrants on the basis of their likely contribution to society, awarding points for factors including age, recognised qualifications and previous experience. This system acts more as a filter on quality than quantity, with the nations using it trying to raise the share of skilled migrants while expanding their relatively small populations. Britain, in contrast, is more concerned about reducing immigration.

We may instead require a work permit system, that includes skills quotas and a cap on overall immigration. Such limits could be altered from year to year, contingent on particular skills gaps and the state of the economy.

The idea of the UK adopting regional immigration controls – sometimes discussed in the context of an emergency brake – is interesting. The possibility of a devolved immigration policy, entirely free of EU rules, is one option that needs to be seriously explored by the government and Parliament, as the UK moves towards a new system of post-Brexit border controls.

During the referendum campaign, and since, a number of those who backed Remain claimed that Brexit would make the UK more ‘insular’ and ‘inward-looking’. We believe, on the contrary, that being outside the EU provides the UK with an opportunity to reaffirm its status as one of the world’s most open, globally minded and tolerant societies. This will be in addition to, and not at the expense of, boosting our domestic economy and make a Clean Brexit a success.

Clean Brexit is co-authored by Liam Halligan and Gerard Lyons and published by Biteback Publishing. BrexitCentral readers can claim a 25% discount on the book by entering the code “CBX15” at the checkout when purchasing it on the Biteback website.