Businesses ‘urgently need to know’ Brexit migration rules

Businesses urgently need to know what the UK’s immigration regime will look like after it leaves the European Union, the CBI has said.

Responding to the announcement of a review into the effects of Brexit on the labour market, the CBI said workers from across Europe strengthened British businesses and helped the public sector run smoothly.

Josh Hardie, deputy director-general at the CBI, said: “Given the importance of mobile skills and labour for the UK economy, firms will want the review to move at pace and include the views of all sectors. Businesses urgently need to know what a new system will look like, during transition and afterwards.”

The review will be run by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), an independent advisory body, on behalf of the Home Office and will look at the costs and benefits of EU migration. It will also advise on what the UK’s new immigration system should look like.

MAC has been asked to produce its report by September 2018, six months before the UK leaves the EU.

Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme about the review, minister of state for immigration Brandon Lewis said freedom of movement would end as soon as the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 and that a new system would be in place by then.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) responded to the announcement with calls for a transitional approach to avoid small firms being “locked out of accessing the labour and skills they need”.

Mike Cherry, national chairman at the FSB said: “Skills and labour from the EU play an important role in many small businesses, with one in five small employers having EU workers… [MAC] needs to engage with the small business community and FSB to address the concerns of small employers and the self-employed.”

Other groups, particularly in the agricultural sector, have raised concerns about changes to migration law. Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers Association (BGA), told SM the review showed recognition of the importance of migrant labour, but he was not sure the fresh produce industry could wait another year for certainty about labour supply. “We’ve been in limbo for 12 months already,” he said.

BGA warned last year that migrant labour shortages, due to the fall in the pound, could cause problems for the industry as most picking and packing work is done by migrant workers from Eastern Europe.

A more recent report by industry body British Summer Fruits predicted prices could increase by up to 50% if the UK lost access to EU workers. 

In a letter to MAC, home secretary Amber Rudd said there would be a phased approach to avoid any cliff edge, but stressed this was an opportunity to reduce net migration.

The review will look at immigration in relation to the government’s modern industrial strategy, and MAC has been asked particularly to assess the current impact of immigration on the competitiveness of UK industry, on skills and training and on whether freely available unskilled labour has contributed to low levels of investment in some sectors.

The government announced a new immigration bill in the Queen’s speech, which it hopes to push through Parliament next year.

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