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Post-Brexit Migration Policy Consultation
1. What should the Government’s objectives be in drawing up a post Brexit immigration system?
This moment should be seized to overhaul the immigration system. For over 20 years, there have been countless Acts of Parliament relating to immigration and sometimes annually. These can be amended almost as soon as they come into force. An immigration commission is needed urgently to effectively tidy this up with a new draft Bill that harmonizes existing laws. This would be one small, but important, step towards making the system more transparent and less complex.
The next step would be to ensure Britain’s competitiveness with an immigration system that both attracts the world’s best and brightest – but without separating British citizens from their families. I would recommend an end to points-based migration, the use of post-study visas, and a new Tier 6 stream for EU (and Commonwealth) citizens based on the UK’s longstanding and deep connection with each.
There should also be fundamental reforms to the family rules. The minimum income threshold, if it were to remain, should account for income by the couple and not only the UK citizen earned in the UK. Non-EU citizens cannot claim public benefit anyway and the income threshold aimed at cancelling out any such benefit burden is a red herring. But denying income earned from the non-UK citizen in calculating the threshold increases risk of separating lawfully recognised marriages of British citizens with no convincing public policy benefit.
2. What are the implications of the net migration target?
The net migration target is a smokescreen. As I have argued elsewhere and many times, the government could reach its target of 100,000 or less within 12 months if it wanted to. At present, we see non-EU citizens within the government’s full control rising while the EU citizens it claims are unrestricted falling fast. The net migration target could be reached by ending visas for entrepreneurs, skilled professionals, students and more for non-EU citizens. But there has not been deep cuts for these areas because of the evidence-based benefits they deliver for the UK. This raises a question about why have a net migration target that could be reached but isn’t. Brexit is not a cause.
In fact, there has been what I have called ‘the free movement myth’ that EU migration is unregulated. This is untrue. What is true is the UK has done much less at imposing existing powers that could be used to restrict EU migration than other EU countries, such as France and Germany.
It has been alarming to see the continued exodus of British citizens, which I have also written about repeatedly. Net migration not only includes estimates of foreign students, but British citizens. Neither should be included lest it incentivizes the government to encourage more UK citizens to leave to achieve a net migration drop, that is justified as an attempt at improving public confidence.
Of course, the biggest problem with net migration is that it does not address the root issues. The public’s concern – rightly or wrongly – with immigration has much more to do with perceptions of their adverse impact on access to public services. A cut in migration numbers is thought to lead to shorter A&E queues, more available housing or better job prospects. Putting aside the issue of underinvestment in public services, less migration is likely to counterintuitively contribute to more adverse impact. Migrants in A&E are more likely to be the doctors and nurses than patients – fewer of the former will lead to longer waiting times for the latter. And so on. Cutting net migration may well fuel further anti-immigration sentiment based on an intuitive, but false, perception of how migration impacts on public services.
- How should the UK address skills shortages which are currently met by EU migration?
I strongly recommend significantly reforming the Migration Advisory Committee. The MAC is a group of five economists providing macroeconomic advice. The government would benefit far more than a slightly expanded MAC including 2-3 additional experts in law and social policy that could help assess the wider social impacts of changes. This is currently overlooked. Plus, the MAC should provide more evidence on microeconomic impacts on regions.
Such a reformed MAC would be better placed to assess where skills shortages are locally as well as nationally with a view to the wider potential impacts.
- Should a post-Brexit immigration policy seek to reflect regional variations?
Yes. I would strongly recommend a national quota system for Tier 1 and 2 visas with additional quota made available by region on evidence-based application for this additional quota by regions. This would keep the standard sufficiently high in terms of accountability and transparency. Too rarely do we hear our elected officials espouse the known benefits that immigration has brought to Britain. This system would share this responsibility nationally and locally while engaging the public to support such cases.
5. To what extent will trade and immigration arrangements be linked in the negotiations and in the legal text on the UK’s future relationship with the EU?
This is uncertain at present, but migration can regularly feature in such arrangements. I would expect it to feature here.
- What are the likely trade-offs?
This will depend on which arrangement is agreed.
MIGRATION CONTROLS WITHIN EU SINGLE MARKET RULES
7. Could the UK seek to continue to participate fully in the Single Market while satisfying public demand for control of immigration?
Yes and no. Some segments of the public have been led to believe that the Single Market’s “free” movement means uncontrolled mass migration. They will not be satisfied.
But this view rests on a substantive mistake about “free” movement. Like any freedom (such as free speech or free assembly), there are reasonable restrictions to its use. The EU’s “free” movement is not a right to go here or there at will, but a freedom of labour to cross borders. There is no unconditional right of travel, benefits acquisition or permanent settlement. Some countries like the UK might choose to not utilise the full range of existing powers than others like Germany, and this may contribute to the false belief that freedom of movement is anarchic. Such a perception can and should be challenged. The government could ensure less abuse of the system, etc if it wanted to while remaining in the Single Market. Other EU countries manage this with greater migration flows. There is no reason to think the UK could not do so too.
- What controls to EU migration or employment, additional to those currently used, are presently available to the UK Government within the single market and what might be the impact were they to be adopted by the Government? What measures are used in other EU countries?
The European Commission lists the rules here: http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=460
MIGRATION CONTROLS IN AN EEA-TYPE FRAMEWORK
9. Would there be benefit in any future deal between the UK and the EU containing an ‘emergency brake’ or similar safeguarding clause? If so, what might such a provision look like and how might it be activated?
No. The issue would be justifying the activating threshold. If this was not suitably robust, it would be difficult to defend. If every country could pull the brake (so to speak) willy nilly, then it would undermine any shared system.
However, if there could be found an agreed threshold, this could make such a scheme potentially workable.
- What kind of emergency brake might be available within an EEA type framework?
See previous answer.
MIGRATION CONTROLS WITHIN A FREE TRADE AGREEMENT
11. What UK/EU immigration controls would be possible in a free trade agreement, what relevant precedents exist and what would be the likely trade-offs if the UK pursued an FTA?
See answer to 8.
- What would be the advantages and disadvantages of having the same immigration arrangements for EEA and non-EEA citizens? Would it be practical to apply existing non-EEA rules to EEA citizens after Brexit?
I would recommend treating EEA and non-EEA citizens differently, as an individual originally a non-EEA citizen. The UK has had a deep, longstanding relationship with the EEA sharing a common citizenship framework. There are common systems, standards and understandings above and apart from many other non-EEA countries. Plus there are benefits to providing a more beneficial scheme given both the proximity of the EU market to the UK and the interest of UK citizens wanting reciprocal rights in the EEA.
I would recommend this is formalised in a new Tier 6 visa scheme. I would also recommend including some Commonwealth citizens especially post-Windrush – and for the same reason of sharing a deep, longstanding relationship. Less than 100 years ago, Citizens of the UK and Colonies was a shared passport from the Caribbean to Cumbria and beyond. This should not be forgotten for its significance in contributing to British identity, and neither should Britain’s place in EU be forgotten or overlooked.
- Is visa liberalisation likely to be a priority for the UK’s trade partners in any potential future FTA negotiations? To what extent can the UK hope to strike trade deals without migration provisions of some kind?
It is difficult to see free trade deals of the kind discussed by ministers lacking any migration provision.
LABOUR MARKET CONTROLS
14. Is there evidence that free movement has had a negative impact on workers’ pay and conditions in the UK? If so, to what extent could such issues be addressed by reforms to labour market regulations? Are there relevant practices from other EU countries that the UK could adopt should such reforms be required?
The main negative impact has been in temporary work in the agrarian economy. Labour market regulations could be reformed, but prices at supermarkets would likely rise.
- What steps should the UK take to encourage UK businesses to employ workers already resident in the UK?
The best step is to invest more substantially in education. The UK will flourish from being a world leader. This means attracting the best talent, but also developing homegrown talent of equal or better quality. Closing ourselves off will not raise our competitiveness nor improve future prosperity.
 See Thom Brooks, ‘May doesn’t have to wait for Brexit to cut immigration’, The Times (11 April 2017).
 See Thom Brooks, Becoming British: UK Citizenship Examined. London: Biteback Publishing. 2016.
 See Thom Brooks, ‘Mrs May must urgently address the exodus of UK citizens or risk undermining Brexit’s potential’, The Daily Telegraph (24 August 2017), Thom Brooks, ‘Theresa May’s strict immigration rules are keeping numbers down – by driving British citizens out’, The Independent (26 April 2017) and Thom Brooks, ‘Net migration is a hollow victory’, The Times (26 May 2017).