The Chequers plan would not deliver a properly controlled migration policy

The Chequers plan would not deliver a properly controlled migration policy

On 23rd June 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU and in so doing, to take back control of their laws, their borders and their money. The immigration system proposed in a new ERG paper published today uses these new freedoms, reducing the pace of population growth to sustainable levels.

The central objective should be to ensure control over the movement of people. Using a combination of work permits and a cap, the UK should look to control access to work and rights to settlement. Free movement for EU citizens for other purposes such as tourism and short-term business visits should be preserved. However, it is vital that the role that access to UK benefits has played in the employment of many of those entering the UK should be understood as it has become a critical part of freedom of movement and should not be separated out. The paper recommends that such easy access should now be curtailed.

According to a Deltapoll which was commissioned by Channel Four News (and published in June 2018), nearly three-quarters of the public still support a significant reduction in immigration.

In summary, we need a migration policy that should ensure that:

  • UK businesses seeking to employ foreign nationals have shown that UK nationals with the correct skills cannot be found in the UK or even within the reasonable travel to work area.
  • in the areas of high added value but low volume, the system remains flexible enough to accommodate the needs of industry and academia.
  • Irish nationals continue to be accepted in effect as UK nationals, as they have been since the 1920s.

It should make clear that EU nationals already resident in the UK, once registered, are welcome to stay and be treated as nationals with regard to work. However, these rights must be adjudicated by UK courts, not the ECJ.

The central purpose of the new system should be ensuring control over the movement of people while retaining largely unhindered entry for EU visitors (as well as students and the self-sufficient). Those who wish to work should be required to apply for a work permit whilst a cap can be set at a level to be determined by the government (the EU might reciprocate but their Blue Card scheme is a feasible alternative for British citizens wishing to work in the EU).

The automatic right to welfare payments should be ended and a period of National Insurance contributions should be required before such access is granted.

The Chequers White Paper does not fulfill the proposals set down for a controlled migration policy. The first criticism is that after two years since the referendum, the issue of migration has not been settled. The few sections dealing with the eventual structure of the post-Brexit system are very vague and lacking in any clear structure. What detail there is in the document is enough to give cause for serious concern.

Paragraph 89 of the White Paper makes it clear that the UK Government would be prepared to agree to social security coordination and further on it refers to ensuring such future workers pay social security contributions in one state at a time. This means that someone in a country with much lower welfare benefits could make much lower contributions in their home country whilst then coming to the UK and claiming much larger work and family benefits as is the case now.

This has been one of the problems in the present system which has cost UK taxpayers considerable sums of money. It has also led to some companies paying very low salaries, knowing recent arrivals can claim full benefits. The inescapable conclusion from this section is that the Government is ready to make major concessions on EU migrants’ access to benefits in an effort to seek a deal, which would make a mockery of their statement that they were ending freedom of movement.

The Migration Advisory Committee said in its September report on EEA migration: ‘With free movement there can be no guarantee that migration is in the interests of UK residents’. The MAC’s proposal that there should be future restrictions on immigration by workers going into lower-skilled roles is welcome. The MAC also finds that EEA immigration has reduced employment opportunities for the young and less well-educated, that it has reduced earnings-growth for the lower paid and that it has increased house prices, especially in areas where house-building is more restricted. This helps add to the case for a new immigration system which restricts inflows into lower paid work.

When the British people voted to leave the EU they did so on the promise that we would take back control of our laws, our borders and our money. Chequers as it stands doesn’t deliver to the British people – not just in that it leaves us as rule-takers not rule-makers, but that when it comes to migration it fails as well. It isn’t enough to grandly state that we will end freedom of movement unless we end the process by which British taxpayers pay to subsidise low-paid work through access to benefits. As a one-time Secretary of State, I was in no doubt that such access to benefits was a pull factor for many to come over. Surely if British companies want to employ people from abroad then the job they are offering should pay a living wage.

The UK has for many become the cheap labour destination and it is time to get British companies to invest once again in training, automation and technology – otherwise we will slip behind our international competitors.