113.The Prime Minister noted the importance of immigration in her Lancaster House speech:
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. And that is what we will deliver.
114.The White Paper pointed out that the last decade had seen record levels of long term net migration into the UK, creating some public concern about the impact on public services and on wages. It added:
The public must have confidence in our ability to control immigration. It is simply not possible to control immigration overall when there is unlimited free movement of people to the UK from the EU. [ … ] We will design our immigration system to ensure that we are able to control the numbers of people who come here from the EU. In future, therefore, the Free Movement Directive will no longer apply and the migration of EU nationals will be subject to UK law.
115.The Government has indicated that a separate Immigration Bill will be brought forward setting out the framework for the system to be adopted after the UK leaves the EU.
116.On our visits around the country, we have heard numerous requests from businesses for flexibility in a future immigration system to ensure that sectors currently reliant on EU workers do not face a sudden shortage of labour. We also heard evidence from the devolved governments that parts of the UK are dependent on immigration in order for their economies to grow. The impact of EU workers in the UK labour market has been profound, with significant employment of EU nationals in sectors as varied as seafood processing in Aberdeen, strawberry picking in Staffordshire, vets in Scottish abattoirs, digital skills in London, social care in Wales or daffodil pickers in Cornwall. Many of the business people we spoke to called for a relatively simple system, avoiding the complexity currently experienced in securing visas for non-EEA workers, highlighting the need for the UK to still be able to attract talent. There was support for a ‘lighter touch’ immigration system for EU workers than for those from outside the EU. The Government would have to work out how it wished to introduce control of who came in and out.
117.One option would be for the UK to develop a system of work permits for EU migrants, requiring employers to apply for authorisation to hire a non-UK national for a specific job. Authorisation would come with conditions attached, with the bulk of the burden of administration and enforcement falling on the employer. Most work permit systems in high-income countries typically restrict eligibility by factors such as occupation, skill level, or income. Low-skilled worker programmes are also common, although they tend to be more restrictive (often limited to specific types of work) and provide limited routes to permanent settlement or family unification. The UK used to operate a seasonal worker scheme for agricultural workers.
118.We commented in our previous Report on The Government’s negotiating objectives: the rights of UK and EU citizens that a balance needed to be struck between increasing control over EU migration and the complexity that might entail for the Home Office and employers.
119.Since publishing that Report, we took evidence from Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, and asked him about London’s priorities in a new immigration system. He told us that, while immigration may have been a concern in many parts of England during the referendum, London had different concerns. He said “Not only do we need talented people and immigration, but London voted that we want it as well.” The construction sector alone employed 300,000 in London, 50 per cent of whom were born outside the UK. Reducing net migration to the tens of thousands would impact on the ability of the construction sector to meet its workforce needs in London alone, never mind the workforce needs of the technology, cultural, financial sectors, or social care and the NHS. He acknowledged that more should be done to skill up young people to fill these jobs but argued that the ability of London to continue to attract talent was important for both London and the UK economy.
120.Sadiq Khan told us he wanted to work with Government, both the Secretary of State and the Home Secretary, to ensure that the UK’s future immigration system was flexible enough to meet the needs of London. He did not want to “carve out a special deal for London” but called for a “flexible immigration system that recognises different parts of the country have different needs.”
121.We took evidence from the Secretary of State on 15 March 2017. He agreed that the new system had to be able to meet the requirements of different parts of the country, and that “Whatever we do has to be flexible enough to meet these requirements”. He told us that:
The issue on migration will be one of the principle of free movement versus control, rather than numbers.
He also recognised the need to balance the economic arguments around migration with the social impact of migration, “housing and all the other things that go with it”. He acknowledged the need to ensure that any system reflected the needs of the economy:
I have said in terms, and again I was criticised for it, that this applies not just to scientists, bankers and so on; it also applies to seasonal workers in agriculture and so on. The aim of the Government, as the Prime Minister has made plain, and she is an exHome Secretary, is to bring down the net migration numbers, but it will not be done in a way that damages the economy.
122.We agree with the Secretary of State that immigration from the EU has made an important contribution to many sectors of the economy in different parts of the country and that, while reducing net migration remains an objective of the Government, this should not be done in a way that damages the economy. The Government’s objective is to secure control of EU migration and this may not entail reducing numbers. Future policy will be an important element in the forthcoming negotiations, given the linkage frequently made between ‘free movement’ and access to the Single Market. We look forward to scrutinising the proposals once the Immigration Bill has been published.
123.We urge the Department for Exiting the EU to continue to make the argument in Government that the future system for EU migration needs to be flexible enough to meet the needs of the economy across the UK. This includes a broad range of different sectors, both high and low skilled, including scientists, bankers, vets, care workers, health service professionals and seasonal agriculture workers. That flexibility should include considering whether immigration should be managed on a geographic basis. We also note with concern the tendency of some employers to rely on importing skilled labour from abroad rather than training up UK employees.
124.The Government has said that it wants to secure an early agreement which guarantees reciprocal rights for both EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals who are resident across the EU. In our report on The Government’s negotiating objectives: the rights of UK and EU nationals, we called on the Government to:
make a unilateral decision to safeguard the rights of EU nationals living in the UK.
125.We noted in our Second Report that:
Managing the permanent residence application process represents a considerable challenge for the Home Office, one that may affect its day to day work. It needs to be transparent about the necessary financial and human resources required and what it is doing to put them in place. The Government needs to be preparing now.
We note that the Home Office is advertising for an additional 240 staff to “work on all types of casework, including European”.
126.Sadiq Khan told us that uncertainty over the rights of one million Londoners who are EU citizens is feeding into uncertainty in business recruitment. He referred to work by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development that reported that there are some people leaving the UK to go back to EU countries of origin. He called for the Prime Minister to offer a guarantee to all EU citizens on the date she triggered Article 50.
127.The Secretary of State told us that:
In all except one of the meetings I have had since the White Paper with foreign ministers, it has spontaneously come up as the first issue. In that one, it was the second issue so, in all of them, it has come up in the first two issues.
128.He added that:
What I will try to do, and I think I will succeed, is get an exchange of letters that makes absolutely plain what we think the outcomes will be and should be and we are determined to make, so we get both sides of the negotiation to agree that. That is what I will aim for.
129.There have been media reports subsequently that representatives of both the EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals across the EU, including groups that gave evidence to this Committee, will be meeting Michel Barnier, and separately meeting the Secretary of State.
130.The status of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals living elsewhere in the EU cannot be left unresolved until the end of the two-year period for negotiations. We reiterate the conclusion of our earlier Report that it would be unconscionable for the more than four million people in these groups to find themselves living in a state of uncertainty about their futures until negotiations are complete, and, therefore, that the Government “should now make a unilateral decision to safeguard the rights of EU nationals living in the UK”. We note that, to date, Ministers have not taken this step. The debate around whether “no deal is better than a bad deal” has focussed on the trade aspects of the future relationship. If the negotiations were to end prematurely without an agreement on the rights for the four million, this could put them in an uncertain position.
131.We recommend that an agreement between the UK and EU27 is reached as a matter of priority once negotiations formally start. That agreement should be concluded as a stand-alone and separate deal which is otherwise not dependent on any other exit or future trade deal being agreed to between the parties.
132.We welcome the intention of both the Secretary of State and Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s Chief Negotiator for Brexit, to meet representatives from the EU nationals in the UK and the UK nationals who are resident across Europe in advance of the negotiations. This is an important development and we hope it is a positive step towards an early resolution of the uncertainty and anxiety of the four million across Europe.
133.The White Paper makes a strong commitment to the maintenance, and enhancement, of workers’ rights:
The Great Repeal Bill will maintain the protections and standards that benefit workers. Moreover, this Government has committed not only to safeguard the rights of workers set out in European legislation, but to enhance them.
134.The White Paper identifies specific rights, such as annual leave, maternity leave, parental leave and the minimum wage, but does not define “workers’ rights” more generally. The previous Government’s Review of the Balance of Competences between the UK and the EU identified the main areas of regulation that impact on the workplace as: equal treatment; regulation of the employment relationship; social protection; and health and safety at work. A range of other rights and pieces of legislation could be identified as falling under EU Employment Law and therefore pertaining to workers’ rights, including: agency workers legislation; data protection; anti-discrimination; fixed-term workers; health and safety; insolvency; information and consultation; maternity and parental rights; part-time workers; posted workers; written statement of terms and conditions; TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment)); working time; and protection of young people at work.
135.Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, responding to the publication of the White Paper, expressed concern that:
While it’s good to see the Government maintain its commitment to protecting existing workers’ rights, people need to know the government won’t seek to compete in a race to the bottom that allows their rights to fall behind workers in the rest of Europe.
She told us before Christmas that “we don’t want Britain to become the bargain basement capital of Europe”.
136.The Secretary of State offered reassurance that:
As for employment rights, a large component of the people who voted to leave the European Union could be characterised as the British industrial working class. It is no part of my brief to undermine their rights—full stop.
137.However, there are a number of areas in which “workers’ rights” in the EU are currently under further development, including in proposals to revise the Posting of Workers Directive to address unfair practices and in a review of EU health and safety legislation. Rt Hon David Jones MP, Minister of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, acknowledged that future divergence between UK and EU legislation would be an “important consideration” in the Brexit process.
138.Notwithstanding the Government’s commitment to maintain protections for workers after the UK leaves the EU, it is likely that levels of protection for workers will diverge in future. Although regulations will be aligned on the day that the UK leaves the EU, thereafter, regulatory power will return to the UK. We note the General Secretary of the TUC’s concern that the UK should not become the “bargain basement” of Europe in this respect and therefore welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment that the Government has no intention of looking to undermine workers’ rights.
125 Q943 [Mike Russell MSP]
126 Q563, Qq994–996, Q1266, Q1326. Several Committees have launched inquiries into aspects of the economy and EU migrants, eg. House of Lords EU Committee, Brexit: UK–EU movement of people, HL paper 121
127 Q789, Qq799–801
136 , 2016–17, HC 1071, para 45
137 , 2016–17, HC 1071, para 79
138 “, Financial Times, 23 March 2017
140 Q1326. The Education Committee inquiry into heard similar concerns that EU academics are planning to leave Higher Education in the UK.
143 “, The Guardian, 17 March 2017
144 , para 7.2
145 “Brexit: employment law”, Briefing Paper , House of Commons Library, 10 November 2016
146 “”, TUC, 2 February 2017
148 HC Deb, 5 September 2016,
149 HC Deb, 7 November 2016,
3 April 2017