May Stresses Commitment to Hard and Fast Brexit, Immigration Control

May Stresses Commitment to Hard and Fast Brexit, Immigration Control

UK Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday laid out an uncompromising vision of her government’s path forward on Brexit, the Guardian reports, expressing a commitment to making a clean break from the EU, whether by securing an acceptable divorce agreement with the remaining EU countries or by going it alone. The UK will pursue such an agreement, and parliament will get to vote on it, but May stressed that neither Europe nor the legislature could prevent Brexit from happening:

She said her government’s 12 priorities for crunch negotiations with the EU 27 meant Britain would:

  • Not be seeking membership of the single market after it leaves the EU.
  • Take back control of its borders, which she said had been impossible with free movement from within Europe.
  • No longer be under the jurisdiction of the European court of justice, arguing: “We will not have truly left the European Union if we are not in control of our own laws.”
  • Not stay in the customs union in its current form, but would try to strike a separate deal that would make trading across borders as “frictionless as possible”.

Her promise of a vote for MPs and peers follows demands from Labour and the Lib Dems, as well as parliament’s committee on Brexit, but Downing street sources made clear that parliament would not be able to stop Britain leaving the EU. That suggests that failure to pass a vote will result in Britain falling back on to the higher tariffs of World Trade Organisation rules.

This is not the first time May’s government has promised a “hard Brexit,” but details had until now been scarce. Tuesday’s speech was very revealing of May’s priorities, the Economist’s Bagehot columnist observes:

This reflects two realities to which policymakers in Britain and on the continent must now get accustomed. First, Mrs May unequivocally interprets the vote for Brexit as a vote for lower immigration even at the cost of some prosperity. Never mind that the polling evidence supporting this assumption is limited: such is now the transaction at the heart of the new government’s political strategy. Second, even allowing for a certain amount of expectation-management, it seems Mrs May is not placing huge importance on the outcome of the talks. She wants a comprehensive free-trade agreement (FTA) based on the one recently signed between the EU and Canada; but where “CETA” took about seven years to negotiate, she has permitted herself two. …

So Britain’s economy is in for a rough ride and, though the government will try to smooth it out, the priority is getting the country out of the EU in the most complete and rapid way possible. If the price of this priority is economic pain, then pay Britain must.

Tightening immigration controls will of course have a significant impact on UK employers who until now have been accustomed to hiring relatively freely from throughout Europe. At the CIPD’s People Management blog, Alison Weatherhead enumerates the costs this change will likely impose on businesses:

At present, the UK government has given no guarantee about the status of the EU nationals who are already living in the UK. It seems likely that many will be able to stay, but we don’t know if there will be controls placed on them, such as a minimum residency requirement or an earning stipulation above a minimum threshold. … Such controls will place additional compliance burdens on employers, and this usually also means costs. Employers may want to encourage EU nationals to apply now for residency certificates or permanent residency if they are eligible.

Looking to the future, businesses that usually rely on a non-UK workforce will need to engage with the new system the government introduces to control migration. We don’t know yet what that will look like, but it is likely to be a version of the current points-based system. This requires employers to be licensed before they can sponsor migrants. Any sponsorship also comes with enhanced monitoring and tracking obligations, which are onerous and time-consuming.

Also at People Management, Marianne Calnan passes along some evidence that Brexit is already having an effect on the health and social care sectors, which rely heavily on foreign labor, as European workers reduce their job search activity in the UK:

Internet searches from Poland for health and social care jobs fell 17 per cent after June 2016, according to GK Strategy. The statistic is particularly damning as the UK’s health sector is the most widely advertised sector in eastern Europe and is one of the most reliant on imported skills, with just under 5 per cent of staff in NHS trusts and social care groups coming from EU nations.

Overall interest in working in the UK is down across most sectors, said the survey, though construction recorded a 22 per cent rise in internet job searches over the surveyed period. Workers in Bulgaria (32 per cent), Romania (30 per cent) and Poland (20 per cent) were all recorded as being less likely to intend to move to the UK than they were before the vote to leave the EU, according to GK Strategy’s analysis, which also found that 19 per cent of Polish expats in the UK had discussed leaving the country.