Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
Government should build migration consensus and engage in open debate
The Home Affairs Committee warns all those involved in the debate not to exploit or escalate tensions over immigration in the run up to withdrawal agreement.
- Read the report summary
- Read the conclusions and recommendations
- Read the full report: Policy options for future migration from the European Economic Area: Interim report
Government has not attempted to build consensus on immigration reform
The Committee has criticised the Government’s failure to set out detail on post-Brexit migration policy or to build consensus on immigration reform despite having over two years since the referendum in which to do so.
Continued delays to the publication of the White Paper on Immigration and the Immigration Bill has meant there is little indication of what immigration policy will be. Despite the fact that the issue was subject to heated and divisive debate during the referendum campaigns in 2016 the Government has not attempted to build consensus on immigration reform or consult the public over future migration policy in the two years since. The Committee believes this is a regrettable missed opportunity.
Migration policy now risks being caught up in a rushed and highly politicised debate
The Committee warns that migration policy now risks being caught up in a rushed and highly politicised debate in the run up to the vote on the withdrawal agreement and it cautions all those involved in the Brexit debate on the withdrawal agreement not to exploit or escalate tensions over immigration in the coming months.
EU migration is an important part of UK history. The need for a good economic deal, the fact that the EU is our closest neighbour and trading partner, UK skills needs and shared economic, social and cultural bonds all mean that EU migration will remain important in future. The committee cautions the Government against implying that the only EEA migration post-Brexit will be in the limited categories referred to in the Withdrawal White Paper, as that is not conducive to an honest or open debate. Nor should the Government make meeting the net migration target an objective of EEA migration policy as it is not working and should be replaced.
In the absence of detail from the Government, the Committee has explored a range of post-Brexit immigration policy options which are set out in this report for Parliament and the public to inform the debate, including on the trade-offs between migration and trade. The Committee will wait for the Migration Advisory Committee’s report in the autumn before making further recommendations, and calls on the Government to consult on options.
Three broad sets of policy options explored
The interim report looks at three broad sets of policy options:
- Within the EU and during transition there are further measures that could be taken, in particular on registration, enforcement, skills and labour market reform. As witnesses noted, the UK has opted not to take up measures which are possible.
- Within an EFTA-style arrangement with close or full participation in the single market, the report highlights a range of further measures that might be possible - especially in a bespoke negotiated agreement. These include ‘emergency brake’ provisions, controls on access to the UK labour market, accession style controls and further measures which build on the negotiation carried out by the previous Prime Minister. We conclude that there are a series of options for significant immigration reform that should be explored by the Government.
- Within an association agreement or free trade agreement, the options in part depend on how close such an agreement is. While any agreement itself may not cover many ‘labour mobility’ measures, the government will still need to make decisions about long-term migration, including for work, family and study.
Calling for a measured debate and consultation on immigration options
Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP, said:
"Immigration was one of the central issues during the referendum and it divided the country, but sadly there has been no attempt by the Government to hold any kind of sensible debate on it or build any kind of consensus on immigration since. That is deeply disappointing and it has left a vacuum—and it’s really important that people don’t exploit that again.
The misinformation and tensions over immigration during the referendum campaign were deeply damaging and divisive. It is essential that does not happen again, and those who exploited concerns over immigration during the referendum need to be more honest and more responsible when it is debated in the run up to the final deal.
We are calling for a measured debate and consultation on immigration options instead.
We found there were a much wider range of possible precedents and options for immigration reform than people often talk about - including options that could be combined with participation in the single market - that we believe the Government should be exploring further now."
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