Policy options for future migration from the European Economic Area: Interim report Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.This is an interim report published to inform Parliament and the public about the limited statements so far from the Government on future migration policy, the range of options for EU/EEA migration during, and after, the transition period that have been raised with us in evidence hearings, and the potential trade-offs between future immigration policy and future economic and trade relationships. We will await the conclusions of the Migration Advisory Committee in the autumn, and—we hope and expect—some substantive proposals from the Government before making recommendations on the future shape of EU migration policy. (Paragraph 3)

2.We welcome the Government’s efforts to secure the status of EU citizens currently living in the UK—and we join the European Parliament in urging the Members States to provide clarity and support for British citizens living in the European Union. However, we are extremely concerned about the current lack of information over future UK immigration policy towards EEA nationals. The shifting timetable for the publication of a long-awaited White Paper on Immigration—and the Immigration Bill announced in the 2017 Queen’s Speech—is not the result of design, but indecision. Whilst we recognise the need for evidence from the Migration Advisory Committee to inform final decisions, we believe that public consultation on broad options is needed. So, it is shocking that it has taken more than two years since the referendum for the UK Government to set out any information on future arrangements at all. (Paragraph 7)

3.It is a serious disappointment that in the two years since the referendum there has been no attempt by the Government to build a consensus on immigration reform, to consult the public on options for change. We welcome the Home Office commissioning evidence from the Migration Advisory Committee and the work it is doing to consult employers on their needs. However, we are concerned that the Government has left a wider debate until late in the process. (Paragraph 10)

4.Geography and the shared economic, social and cultural bonds between the UK and the European Union mean that the movement, or mobility, of people will remain vital. It is therefore imperative that the debate about our future EEA migration policy does not see a resurgence of the polarisation that characterised some elements of the 2016 referendum campaigns. We warn all those involved in the debate on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement over the next few months not to exploit or escalate tensions over immigration when it should be possible to hold a sensible debate and build greater consensus instead. (Paragraph 12)

Objectives for a future EEA migration policy

5.The lack of detail on immigration in the White Paper on the future relationship stands in stark contrast with the proposals being brought forward in the areas of customs, trade and security. It is unfortunate that by waiting so long to commission work from the Migration Advisory Committee the Government now finds itself without the information it needs for negotiations that are underway. We agree that final decisions should ideally be informed by information from the Migration Advisory Committee, but we believe that consultation on different options should still take place. In the meantime, we caution the Government against implying that the only EEA migration post-Brexit will be in the limited categories referred to in the White Paper, as that is not conducive to an open and transparent debate. (Paragraph 28)

6.We repeat our recommendation in previous reports that meeting the net migration target should not be an objective of EEA migration policy. It is not working and should be replaced. (Paragraph 29)

7.There is clear public appetite for debate and discussion of immigration policy. Even at this late stage in the process the Government could be doing more to consult and build public consensus on the future of EEA immigration rules. It would be wrong for the Government to make simplistic assumptions, or underestimate the public’s interest in debating and engaging with the necessary trade-offs in forging a new relationship with the European Union. (Paragraph 36)

8.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 EEA migration in future, linked to our economic relationship. (Paragraph 37)

Existing applicable controls

9.Existing applicable controls, such as a registration scheme, combined with comprehensive and accurate exit checks, would give the Government information about migration from the EEA and would put in place a process of formalising employment and residency in the UK. Such a process need not be burdensome, but it would be a requirement upon citizens from elsewhere in the EEA wanting to live and work in the UK. Linking the right to residency to self-sufficiency—which would need to be defined but which the Government appears to suggest is its preferred way forward—would keep the focus on those coming to work, and is already an accepted EU principle, which could be further enforced. (Paragraph 45)

10.The Government should not just look to immigration rules as it seeks to address public concerns over immigration. Regulation of the labour market, further measures to prevent exploitation, and increased funding for enforcement would benefit both domestic and migrant workers, subject to practical arrangements with business. That other countries inside the EU and in EFTA have far more regulated labour markets than the UK demonstrates that a close economic relationship with the EU is not a barrier for improving terms and conditions of workers in the UK. The Government should seek to improve labour market conditions as part of a holistic approach to addressing public concerns over the impact of immigration, irrespective of what the future relationship with the EU might look like. Plans to do so should be announced in or alongside the forthcoming White Paper on Immigration. (Paragraph 56)

Controls within an EFTA-style framework

11.The existing safeguard measures available to EFTA states as part of their trade relationships with the European Union demonstrate that they can—in principle—exercise more controls on immigration while participating in the single market than are available to EU Member States. Were the Government to change its red lines, such arrangements might provide a basis for drawing up means of controlling EEA migration from within the single market. (Paragraph 69)

12.In its strategy for negotiations with the European Union, the Government has not considered the range of possible safeguard provisions that could be applied to a trade agreement that allowed the UK to participate in a single market after Brexit, which would combine new immigration controls and maintain economic benefits. It should immediately do so. (Paragraph 82)

13.While we are not recommending any particular model for future migration from the EU, we do note that—based on the evidence we have received—there are options for controlling migration within the single market which go much further than the previous Prime Minister’s negotiation with the European Union. We recognise that these options have not been the subject of negotiations between the UK and the EU, and that negotiations would be complex, but we believe these options should be explored. (Paragraph 87)

Other free trade options

14.The DCFTA negotiated between the European Union and the Ukraine provides a precedent for partial integration in the single market without requiring the free movement of people. Despite the European Commission’s repeated claim that there can be no ‘cherry-picking’ of the four freedoms of the single market, this is a political judgement rather than a technical or legal obstacle. We note that the EU-Ukraine package was agreed in the context of Ukraine moving towards the EU, rather than away, and the European Commission has so far insisted that, for the UK-EU negotiations, the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible. (Paragraph 97)

15.A free trade agreement along the lines of CETA would only require limited immigration provisions. However, such an outcome does not remove the need for the Government to make decisions about long-term migration from the EU. UK universities will still want to take on students from EU Member States, employers will still want to be able to recruit the—to use the Government’s phrase—’brightest and best’, as well as low-paid workers in key sectors, and family migration will remain of huge importance. It is not the case, therefore, that an FTA would necessarily mean limited migration. A number of complex, important and inter-related policy decisions would still need to be made by the Government. (Paragraph 102)

16.We note the many complaints we have received about the existing immigration policy toward non-EEA nationals. Whatever the Government’s intention for post-Brexit immigration policy it should include an overhaul of the UK’s immigration arrangements for non-EEA nationals. (Paragraph 109)

17.As we noted in our previous report, ‘Immigration policy: basis for building consensus’, we believe any future migration system should ensure that high-skilled—not just highly-paid—workers can come to the UK to provide skills that are needed in our economy, society and public services like the NHS. Immigration rules should allow UK businesses and organisations to attract easily workers from across the globe, with the skills they need in internationally competitive fields. (Paragraph 116)

18.In our report, ‘Immigration policy: basis for building consensus’, we called on the Government to consider a new Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme. We noted evidence that access to the EEA labour market is already insufficient to meet demand. We are concerned that the Home Secretary has said that no new scheme will be introduced until after the transition period. We believe this is far too late—it should be introduced as soon as possible. We also recommend that it should be accompanied by measures to prevent seasonal workers being exploited, such as increased funding for the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, and enforcement of Modern Slavery legislation. (Paragraph 120)

Published: 31 July 2018