LORDS

Government should pursue preferential agreement with EU on future migration

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06 March 2017

Offering preferential treatment to EU nationals compared to non-EU nationals in the UK's future immigration regime could increase the likelihood of securing reciprocal preferential treatment for UK nationals in the EU and improve the prospects achieving the UK's objectives on access to the Single Market, says the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee in its report published today.

Background

The Prime Minister has said that "the message from the public before and during the referendum campaign was clear: Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe." In order to deliver this, the Government intends to put an end to the free movement of persons, one of the four freedoms underpinning the Single Market.

In its report, the Committee examines possible arrangements for migration of EU citizens to the UK after the UK has left the EU with a view to identifying the main choices available to the Government and their likely implications - including for UK citizens wishing to move to the EU in future.

Chairman's Quote

Commenting on the report, Baroness Prashar, Chairman of the Sub-Committee, said:

"The precise manner in which the Government proposes to "end" free movement is a pivotal aspect of the United Kingdom's approach to negotiations with the European Union and could have far-reaching consequences for the UK's future trading relationship with the EU.

"Crucial sectors of the economy depend on EU migrant labour, so it is essential that any changes don't endanger the vibrancy of the UK economy. We therefore recommend a phased transition to avoid the short-term shocks to particular sectors.

"The Committee was struck by the weaknesses and gaps in the UK's migration statistics. Different measures of who counts as a migrant sow confusion in public debate, and contribute to a gap between perceptions and reality.

"If the Government's ultimate objective is to reduce dependency on low-cost migrant labour, it needs to look beyond immigration policy. We need a reassessment of the Government's industrial strategy, its education and skills policy, and its public spending plans."

 Key findings

  • The Government says it will be pursuing a "two-way agreement" with the EU regarding future migration flows. We support this objective, and judge that offering preferential treatment to EU nationals compared to non-EU nationals in the UK's future immigration regime could increase the likelihood of securing reciprocal preferential treatment for UK nationals in the EU. It could also improve the prospects of achieving the UK's objectives on access to the Single Market. In view of the read-across to these other goals, we consider it vital that the Government should not close off policy options on future regulation of EU immigration ahead of negotiations with the EU-27.
  • The unanimous view of the public and private sector employers' groups from whom we took evidence was that the Government should not apply the UK's non-EU work permit system to EU nationals. They warned that this would disproportionately affect some employers' ability to sponsor EU workers, and could result in labour shortages.
  • We recommend that the Government focuses on improving its evidence base before further entrenching the skills-based immigration policy that the UK already operates in respect of non-EU nationals.
  • The restoration of national control over EU migration may or may not deliver a reduction in overall net migration. We note that until June 2016, net migration to the UK from outside the EU was consistently higher than EU migration, even though the relevant policy levers are already under national control.

Further information

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