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Brexit: Immigration

Volume 790: debated on Thursday 29 March 2018


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to take account of the findings of the Migration Advisory Committee’s report, EEA Workers in the UK Labour Market, published on 27 March, in their negotiations with the European Union before 29 March 2019.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, and at her request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, we welcome the Migration Advisory Committee’s interim report and will consider it carefully as we plan for the future immigration system. However, the MAC has been clear that the analysis is not complete, so it would be wrong to pre-empt its final report, which is due in September. The Government will take account of the MAC’s advice when making decisions about our future immigration system.

My Lords, the CBI’s director of people, in response to the report, says that,

“restricting access to EU workers—at a time of record employment rates—would leave companies without the staff they need to grow and invest”.

Will the free movement of EU citizens continue after Brexit across all borders between the EU and the UK or only across the border between the EU and Northern Ireland?

We have been very clear that free movement will end at the end of the implementation period. Having said that, in our negotiations with the EU we are committed to seeing how we can smooth the flow of people in the future. However, we are very clear that one message from the referendum was that we need to take back control of immigration and deliver that for the people.

My Lords, first, I hope that this is the last time that I will have to be here before the break, and I wish everyone a happy Easter. The Greek Easter will be a week later—pungent bitter herbs for those who are about to commemorate Passover. I understand that there is now to be a further delay to the immigration Bill. Would it not have been a very good idea if, before fixing the exit date, the Government had decided what sort of role there would be for EU citizens after leaving? Will they come into this country in the same way as Commonwealth citizens or American citizens, or in some other way? We are now facing leaving without any idea of what our future Immigration Rules will be. Is it not time that we moved on that?

I thank the noble Baroness for her Easter good wishes. I think that I will spend my Easter studying amendments to the withdrawal Bill; nevertheless, I hope that we all get some time off. Yesterday the Home Secretary said that we expect to publish a White Paper on a future immigration system before the end of the year in order for consultations to go forward. Legislation will follow that but we have already provided certainty for what will happen during the implementation period up to the end of 2020.

My Lords, the noble Lord has just confirmed that we will have zero certainty about immigration on exit day, if exit day is in March next year. If there is a White Paper by the end of the year, the chances of getting an immigration Bill through by exit day is nil. How does the noble Lord expect people to judge the impact of exit if they do not have the faintest idea what our immigration system will be at the point of exit?

I think that the noble Lord is a bit confused about this. We are very clear—and we reached agreement on this—that during the implementation period, which will start on exit day, all the current arrangements will be replicated so that people will have certainty about the system until the end of 2020, another 21 months after exit day. After that, we will put in place a new immigration system, which is what the White Paper will be about. Therefore, we do have certainty on what will happen next year.

Can the Minister confirm that there is no confusion about the way that the new computer system at the border will work, and can he deny the allegations in the press that it will take five years to put it in place?

It would be very dangerous for a Minister to stand at this Dispatch Box and speak with certainty about computer systems. However, I am sure that, as we speak, the best brains in the land are getting to work to put in place a robust system that will work properly and efficiently in the future.

My Lords, the noble Lord has just said that we will not have the new immigration system until the end of the implementation period. Is he implying that freedom of movement will continue during that period, so that that is another area where, in effect, there will be a standstill agreement until the end of 2020?

Yes. Freedom of movement will continue during the implementation period subject to a registration system.

My Lords, following on from that, will the White Paper look ahead at the infrastructure implications of continued immigration for GPs, schools and all of our infrastructure across the UK?

My noble friend makes a good point. That is one of the key questions that will need to be answered in designing and implementing the new system. I am sure the White Paper will take that fully into account. However, we will want to hear views and comments from all interested parties.

My Lords, the noble Lord is entirely convincing about how confident he is that there will be a technological solution in time. He has just told your Lordships that the arrangements will continue through the implementation and transition stage. What if there is no transition stage because we crash out of the EU? What happens then in a year’s time?

As we have said, we are confident that we can get a deal. At every stage so far the doomsayers have said we would not reach agreement and we have. We have agreed all the details of an implementation period. Clearly that needs to be subject to final agreement and, like any responsible Government, we are carefully assessing our contingency options if there is not a deal. However, we are confident that there will be a deal.

My Lords, is not the truth that the Government are trying to hoodwink the British people by not revealing their post-Brexit immigration plans this year? What surely will happen because of the sectoral demands for labour is that the volume of people coming from the EU will be similar to now, but we and EU citizens will have lost our free movement rights. It is a lose-lose scenario, and there will be a great deal more red tape for employers.

More water is being spilt at the Dispatch Box. Where is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, when we need him? I have forgotten the question now. We are confident that we will be able to put in place a new system. The referendum was about taking back control of immigration and when we deliver the results that the British people voted for it will be a win-win situation.