With eight months to go until the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, the Government is yet to set out any substantive proposals on long-term migration between the UK and the EU. White papers and pieces of legislation, promised on multiple occasions by successive Home Secretaries, have been delayed. While we welcome the Government’s efforts to secure the status of EU citizens currently living in the UK, we join the European Parliament in urging other EU countries to provide clarity and support for British citizens living in the European Union.
There has been no attempt by the Government to build consensus on future migration policy despite the fact that the issue was subject to heated, divisive and at times misleading debate during the referendum campaign in 2016. This, we believe, is regrettable. An opportunity to help business and employers plan, and a crucial moment to rebuild confidence in the migration system, has so far been missed.
After the referendum debates, we called upon the Government to instigate debates and policy processes to challenge misinformation, and to build trust, support and credibility. Our report, Immigration policy: basis for building consensus, noted that following the referendum the UK had the opportunity to reset the immigration debate. Migration is an important part of the UK’s economic, social and cultural history—and will go on being so, including in future migration between the UK and the European Union. It is a serious disappointment that the Government has made no attempt so far to attempt to build consensus, nor to consult with the public about the decisions that must be made and the trade-offs our country faces as it negotiates a new relationship with the European Union. We warn in this report that immigration policy decisions now risk being caught up in a rushed and highly politicised debate in the run up to a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement.
In this interim report, we consider the limited statements so far made by the Government about future migration policy, and we set out for Parliament the range of options for EU/EEA migration during the transition period and beyond, that witnesses and other contributors have put to us.
We are waiting for the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) report in the autumn before making further recommendations, and we recognise that the Government ideally should not make final decisions on the majority of immigration policy in advance of the MAC report. However, we believe it is right to set the options out for Parliament and the public at this stage to inform the debate. We have also considered the potential trade-offs on immigration and trade relationships.
Broadly, our Report looks at three sets of policy options. First, within the EU and during transition there are further measures that could be taken, in particular on registration, enforcement, skills and labour market reform. As witnesses noted, the UK has opted not to take up measures which are possible.
Second, within an EFTA-style arrangement with close or full participation in the single market, we highlight a range of further measures that might be possible—especially in a bespoke negotiated agreement. These include ‘emergency brake’ provisions, controls on access to the UK labour market, and further measures which build on the negotiation carried out by the previous Prime Minister. We conclude that there are a series of options for significant immigration reform that should be explored.
Third, within an association agreement or free trade agreement, the options in part depend on how close such an agreement is. While any agreement itself may not cover many ‘labour mobility’ measures, the Government will still need to make decisions about long-term migration, including for work, family and study.
Overall, we heard considerable evidence that refusing to discuss reciprocal immigration arrangements in the future partnership would make it much harder to get a close economic partnership with the EU. The need for a good economic deal, the fact that the EU is our closest neighbour and trading partner, and the shared economic, social and cultural bonds that exist between the UK and the EU mean that mobility of people will remain important.
The proximity geographically, economically and socially between the UK and the EU, and the need for a good overall deal, supports a distinct arrangement for EU migration in the future, linked to our economic relationship—with specific policies and models to be debated in the months ahead.
Published: 31 July 2018