Virginia, US
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| Ian Robinson

Brexit and immigration – the UK’s negotiating brief

Earlier today the Prime Minister published her White Paper on Brexit, titled “The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union”.
 
There are lots of ways to report on any government statement, and many ways in which we draw conclusions. The most fun way, for me at least, is to read between the lines – what doesn’t it say and why not? Right now I am questioning why there is no explicit mention of access to migrant workers for lower skilled roles. That won’t go down well in the agricultural, construction or hospitality sectors.
 
It is also interesting that Priority 9: Securing new trade agreements with other countries contains no mention of trade related migration, even in the levers for negotiation. The UK might not be planning to offer up trade migration but we can be sure that most countries are already considering it.
 
Really though the most important and most tangible thing is to understand what has been said. Here are the key quotes on immigration.
 
Priority 4 - the Common Travel Area
 
Maintaining migration flows between the UK and Ireland
 
“We want to protect the ability to move freely between the UK and Ireland, north-south and east-west, recognising the special importance of this to people in their daily lives.”
 
Priority 5 – controlling immigration
 
An open country that controls migration
 
“We will remain an open and tolerant country, and one that recognises the valuable contribution migrants make to our society and welcomes those with the skills and expertise to make our nation better still. But in future we must ensure we can control the number of people coming to the UK from the EU.”
 
Embracing the world
 
“As we leave the EU and embrace the world, openness to international talent will remain one of our most distinctive assets.”
 
A telling emphasis on high skilled migration?
 
“We will always want immigration, including from EU countries, and especially high-skilled immigration and why we will always welcome individual migrants arriving lawfully in the UK as friends.”
 
Free movement will end
 
“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.”
 
More emphasis on highly skilled people
 
“We will create an immigration system that allows us to control numbers and encourage the brightest and the best to come to this country, as part of a stable and prosperous future with the EU and our European partners.”
 
And more again
 
The UK will always welcome genuine students and those with the skills and expertise to make our nation better still.
 
Concerns from universities seem to have been heard
 
“The Government also recognises the important contribution made by students and academics from EU Member States to the UK’s world class universities.”
 
Is impacts on the different sectors finally a nod to lower skilled workers?
 
“We are considering very carefully the options that are open to us to gain control of the numbers of people coming to the UK from the EU. As part of that, it is important that we understand the impacts on the different sectors of the economy and the labour market.”
 
Businesses and communities will get a say
 
“We will, therefore, ensure that businesses and communities have the opportunity to contribute their views.”
 
Hinting at a regional system?
 
“Equally, we will need to understand the potential impacts of any proposed changes in all the parts of the UK. So we will build a comprehensive picture of the needs and interests of all parts of the UK and look to develop a system that works for all.”
 
It might not happen over night
 
“There may be a phased process of implementation to prepare for the new arrangements. This would give businesses and individuals enough time to plan and prepare for those new arrangements.”
 
But it will happen
 
“For each issue, the time we need to phase in the new arrangements may differ; some might be introduced very quickly, some might take longer. And the interim arrangements we rely upon are likely to be a matter of negotiation. The UK will not, however, seek some form of unlimited transitional status.”
 
Priority 6 – Securing rights
 
What about British people in Europe and Europeans in the UK?
 
“We want to secure the status of EU citizens who are already living in the UK, and that of UK nationals in other Member States, as early as we can.”
 
We are not talking small numbers
 
“Around 2.8 million EU nationals16 were estimated to be resident in the UK, many of whom originate from Poland.17 It is estimated that around 1 million UK nationals are long-term residents of other EU countries, including around 300,000 in Spain. France and Germany also host large numbers of British citizens.”
 
Do some EU Member States oppose the idea?
 
“The Government would have liked to resolve this issue ahead of the formal negotiations. And although many EU Member States favour such an agreement, this has not proven possible.”
 
And to conclude
 
“This Government will make no attempt to remain in the EU by the backdoor .... building a truly global UK ... a new global UK.”