David Davis’ phased immigration cuts aren’t necessary

David Davis only wants to restrict free movement when it’s in the “national interest”. But would that ever be the case?

With Brexit, we’re all losers. Not only do we risk losing our rights to free movement in 27 other countries, we’re likely to be poorer too. But as we get closer to the government’s deadline for invoking Article 50, it’s becoming clear that with Brexit, those who voted leave might feel like they have particularly lost out.

Pretty much as soon as the referendum result was known, it was clear that there was not going to be an extra £350m a week for the NHS. As Brexit risks the economy, it seems fair to say that Brexit risks the NHS.

And in comments made at a press conference in Latvia, Brexit secretary David Davis said that whilst Britain wanted to control immigration, it would only restrict free movement when it was in the “national interest”. This is an acknowledgement that Britain needs immigrants. As the New Statesman points out, he’s not the only Brexit minister that thinks so too.

Fellow Tory MP Stephen Crabb said that Brexiteers face a rude awakening on immigration. And he may well be right. Davis’ comments are likely to disappoint those who voted leave because they wanted to see immigration cuts. They have a right to – especially as it was David Davis who had also said that immigration could fall to almost zero when we leave the EU.

The Guardian reports that Davis said that immigration restrictions would be phased in (this was also alluded to in the government’s white paper). Davis added that the reason for this is because Britons would not immediately take the jobs that so many migrants are doing. Jobs in the agricultural, social care and hospitality industry.

There are recruitment agencies dedicated to finding workers from the EU to come to the UK. It’s fair to assume that those recruitment agencies would have been so successful if businesses weren’t crying out for workers. And if there were enough willing Brits available to do the job.

Britain’s immigration figures are a sign of Britain’s successful economy. If there are issues related to worker pay, conditions or skills that need to be addressed to attract more Brits into some of these jobs, let’s address those. There’s no need to phase in immigration restrictions. People come here because there are jobs. If there weren’t, fewer people would come.

Here’s our favourite tweet about the news…


Restrictions already available within free movement

The Centre for European Reform (CER) has a policy brief on free movement. It points out the differences in the thinking about free movement between the rest of the EU and Britain. But it also acknowledges that free movement is not an “unconditional right”. We reported the restrictions available within free movement in a previous post. The CER also points out that the European Court of Justice (which the prime minister has an aversion to) had recently “set tougher limits on EU citizens’ access to social benefits when living in another member-state.” Migrants’ ability to access benefits here was a big issue for leave campaigners. This is despite evidence to suggest that EU citizens living in the UK pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits.

Restrictions within the EEA

There is also an argument for Britain remaining in the EEA and still being able to limit immigration from the EU. Open Europe points out that the EEA agreement has ‘safeguard measures’, which allow EEA members to “take appropriate measures if serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectorial or regional nature liable to persist are arising”. Open Europe says that this could enable EEA members to limit EU migration temporarily. EEA members are a part of the single market and agree to free movement with the EU. Britain is both an EU and EEA member so even if it chose to leave the EU, it could still remain in the EEA.

Even as a member of the EU, it’s hard to see what scenario the Brexit secretary sees would be in the “national interest” to restrict free movement.

Image: © Twocoms /
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