Friday, 21 July 2017

Government 'in the dark' on migration

Brexit, we were told, was about 'taking back control'.  What that meant specifically was taking back control of our borders and immigration.  This was probably the biggest issue swaying voters in the referendum.  It masked all other arguments. 

Now a parliamentary committee warns that the government has no clear data on migration and the government is working 'in the dark'. 

The Government will struggle to take control of immigration post-Brexit unless major improvements are made to the quality of migration data upon which it currently relies, the Economic Affairs Committee says  in its report into Brexit and the Labour Market.

Commenting on the report, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Economic Affairs Committee Chairman, said:

"The Government must have reliable statistics on migration before it formulates new policy, otherwise it will be making crucial decisions - of vital importance to the country's businesses - in the dark.

"It will take companies time to adapt their business models to be less dependent on EU workers and an implementation period is essential to ensure a smooth transition.

"Businesses will have to accept that immigration from the European Union is going to reduce and adapt accordingly. Some firms will need to raise wages to attract domestic workers. In other sectors, where migrant workers may not easily be replaced by domestic workers, firms will need to change their business models or increase capital investment in automated processes. All these options may lead to higher prices for consumers.

"The Committee's 2008 report on immigration warned that the employment of migrant workers could lead to businesses neglecting skills and training for British workers. As the recruitment and retention problem in the nursing sector highlights, these fears have been realised and training for the domestic workforce needs urgently to be given a higher priority."

The report heard concerns about the impact of Brexit on the Labour market from many sources including the business community.

Many businesses told the committee they rely on migrant workers and there is uncertainty over the extent to which any post-Brexit immigration policy would take account of this.  Unless the transition arrangements are clarified soon, businesses also  are having to make contingency plans in the dark. 

Too much darkness, you might say.  Indeed,  and what business desperately needs is certainty in the labour market.  

We are now informed that the government will seek transitional arrangements to protect the economy, but there is little clarity about what these arrangements would be.   Businesses are having to take stock now,  and not wait for Brexit in 2019.   Furthermore, it will be more difficult for them to recruit skilled staff from the EU during the transition if job security becomes an issue.   Why would a skilled worker from the EU take the step of uprooting to live and work in the UK if they might not be able to employed there after 2 years?  

But why should British voters have any faith that leaving the EU would 'take back control of migration when the government hasn't successfuly limited the flow of non-EU migrants? In the year ending December 2016, it is estimated that 588,000 people migrated to the UK. Of these 250,000 were EU nationals, 264,000 non-EU nationals, and 74,000 British nationals.

The answer is complex, but then the factors driving migration are not simple.  They are a complex of economic opportunity, conflict, environmental change, and also the needs of the British economy.  

The term 'migrant worker' conjures images of low-skilled workers,  but the British economy relies on migration for the high-skilled Labour it needs.   The British economy has major skill shortages. 

In the end, if economic sense prevails, then the needs of the economy will trump any idea of 'taking back control'.   This is why Brexit Secretary  David Davis won't and can't give assurances that migration will fall after the UK leaves the EU.  

On what was a key issue for many voters in the referendum, those who voted for Brexit are in for disappointment, and it really brings into question the reasons we are leaving. 








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