Keeping our capital working for the UK

Print this page

Immigration announcements; more smoke and mirrors?

Mark Hilton, London First Policy Director, Skills

Immigration policy is undoubtedly the huge hurdle in Brexit negotiations, and the number one priority for business.

This week, Amber Rudd set out to reassure business leaders, with the promise of an implementation period to protect employers from a “steep cliff edge” come March 2019. Yet, the announcement instigated more questions, and created more frustration with the proposal of a lengthy, belated consultation.

The principle of a government commission to establish the facts on immigration and its role in our economy is positive; any immigration policy must be evidence based, working off hard data. But, why has it taken so long to initiate?

In July 2016, days after the referendum result, London First planned an analysis of the role and impact of migration in London, to start filling gaps in the evidence base.  Working with PwC, we launched Facing Facts in March 2017.  Our study showed that London’s migrants pay £30bn in tax each year, the same as our government’s budget for the UK’s police and fire services. Mapping migrant employment showed the breadth of key industries that rely on EU talent; from healthcare and construction to our growing tech sector.

If we look back, 56 weeks have gone by since the referendum result, since we knew we’d have to change our country’s immigration system. Another 57 weeks will go by before we get the Migration Advisory Committee’s answers to this commission. That will leave just 30 weeks to decide what we do with the findings and create a new immigration system that ‘works for all’.

Thirty weeks to achieve two very complex objectives: ensuring UK businesses of all shapes and sizes can continue to recruit much needed talent and labour so that both they and the economy can remain afloat; and ensuring immigration levels are brought under control.

Complex, but not impossible. London First’s realistic outline proposal is informed by business and broader stakeholder insight, as well as hard data. Perhaps a helpful tool for government.

Amidst the lengthy delays, we also have a heavy dose of confusion as ministers give mixed messages.  The Home Office document lays clear there will be an implementation phase where a new system of registering and documenting new EU arrivals will be introduced.  Freedom of movement, in anything but name. At the same time, immigration minister, Brandon Lewis, publicly states that freedom of movement will end on March 2019.

Now is not the time for smoke and mirrors.  Now is the time for re-setting the UK’s approach to migration.  To build trust, confidence and certainty. It is the time for business and government to work together to better manage migration, whilst protecting jobs and livelihoods. Let’s get on with it.

London First Tweets