Skip to main content

Non-UK EU Nationals: Small Businesses

Volume 640: debated on Tuesday 1 May 2018

Non-UK EU nationals account for 7% of total UK employment. Scottish businesses have had the opportunity to feed into the Migration Advisory Committee’s analysis of the role of EU nationals in the UK. We appreciate the strong contribution that EU nationals make to small and large businesses, and we have already agreed to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK under our withdrawal agreement with the EU.

In my constituency, fruit and veg producers and the tourism industry rely heavily on EU seasonal workers. Does the Minister recognise the damage that continued uncertainty is doing to those businesses? Two years on from the referendum, when will they get a bit more certainty so that we can maintain those EU seasonal workers who contribute so much to our economy?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that there should not be uncertainty. We have made it clear that we do not regard the referendum result as a vote to pull up the drawbridge. The United Kingdom will remain an open and tolerant country which recognises the valuable contribution that migrants make, and welcomes those with the skills and expertise that will make our society even better. The Government commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to report on EU patterns of migration in different sectors and different parts of the UK, and it will do so by September 2018.

Analysis shows that EU citizens contribute £4 billion a year to the economy in Scotland. We see that happening in small businesses along Shettleston Road, for example. Does the Minister agree that the devastating effect of free-movement restrictions will have a colossal impact on small businesses in Shettleston and in Scotland as a whole, and will he support the calls from the Scottish Trades Union Congress for immigration to be devolved to Scotland?

Our position on immigration policy and who should be responsible for it is clear, and has not changed. Since the referendum we have been engaging widely with, among others, the devolved Administrations and businesses in Scotland to ensure that we fully understand the requirements, but let me make it absolutely clear that the Government understand the issues of businesses and will ensure that the system works for them.

My hon. Friend is no stranger to the Ribble Valley. He knows that it is a jewel in the crown for the hospitality trade, which employs a great many EU citizens. Does he agree that post-Brexit there will still be many opportunities for people in the EU to come to the United Kingdom and work in the hospitality trade?

I can report that I have experienced the hospitality in the Swan with Two Necks, and I recommend it to the House.

As my hon. Friend will know, the Migration Advisory Committee is looking at exactly the issue that he has raised, but he is absolutely right: EU migrants play a massive role in our hospitality industry, and the hospitality industry is one of the reasons people visit this country.

Does my hon. Friend agree that Brexit provides a welcome opportunity for us to attract talent to our shores from all countries, not just those in the EU, and can he assure me that the Government remain committed to ensuring that all businesses have the access to the workforce from overseas that they need?

Absolutely. We have a competitive workforce here. The economy is thriving, partly because of the contribution made by the people to whom my hon. Friend has referred. I particularly commend her for the work that she has done in relation to the soft fruit seasonal workers scheme.

The Federation of Small Businesses says that the right of EU staff to remain in the UK is vital. In Scotland, 45% of tourism and leisure businesses rely on EU staff for their workforce. They fear that they will not be able to recruit for their future needs, and their fear is heightened by the possibility that the immigration skills charge—which is currently up to £1,000 a year—will be applied. Can the Minister categorically assure employers that they will not be subjected to any charge for EU workers post-Brexit?

We will set out in due course the system and the scheme that will operate post-Brexit. I can, however, assure the hon. Gentleman that I regularly meet representatives of the Federation of Small Businesses, and we will ensure that the workforce is there for those businesses.

The Scottish Affairs Committee, the Home Affairs Committee in its report, and the Economics Committee in the House of Lords all see the sense of a differentiated immigration system for Scotland. Can the Minister confirm that he, too, accepts that there is a clear case for a policy that recognises the different needs of businesses in Scotland?

This Government well understands the needs of businesses both throughout the UK and specifically in Scotland. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Home Office will shortly present further details of the scheme that is to be introduced.