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Annual review of the ending of free movement in the United Kingdom

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 5th March 2019.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration 2:00 pm, 5th March 2019

New clauses 13 and 43 focus on requiring the Government to report on the impacts of ending free movement and our future immigration rules, respectively, on European economic area and Swiss nationals. As I have said, I appreciate that some Committee members do not believe we should end free movement. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for Wirral South, who spoke passionately on the matter.

I emphasise again that the Government fully recognise the great contribution that migrant workers make to the UK. We remain committed to ensuring that the future immigration system caters for all sectors, and that it benefits the UK economy and our prosperity. We want the existing workforce to stay and we want to continue to attract other international workers to the UK. That is why the White Paper contains a route for skilled workers —it will, for the first time, encompass medium-skilled workers as well as the highly skilled—and a temporary worker route, which will enable people of all skill levels to come to the UK for up to 12 months. Neither of those routes will be subject to a cap on the number of visas granted.

The Government take seriously the economic impact on the UK economy of the proposals that we set out in the immigration White Paper in December and other measures in the Bill to end free movement. These proposals are designed to benefit the UK and to ensure that it continues to be a competitive place, including for medical research and innovation.

I share the hon. Lady’s concern that policies are properly evaluated and their full impact considered. That is why the immigration White Paper contained a full economic appraisal, running to more than 50 pages. It is a serious piece of work, which I encourage all hon. Members to study carefully. However, although it is considered and well thought-through, that appraisal is, by its nature, predictive. The proof of any immigration policy is its actual effect, which can be established only once the policy is in operation. We need to understand how policies work in practice, how businesses and employers react and how individual prospective migrants behave. We also need to understand the prevailing economic conditions in the UK and the countries from which migrants might come.

The hon. Lady spoke of the quality of the debate in the referendum of 2016. I well remember some comments that were made at that time about the views of experts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I give quite a lot of credence to the views of experts, and accordingly I have a lot of sympathy with the sentiment behind the new clauses. I am pleased to tell the Committee that the Government already have plans in place to ensure there is an annual review of the kind that is envisaged.

Hon. Members will see that there is a section in chapter 3 of the immigration White Paper on the future role of the Migration Advisory Committee. It says that the Government will commission MAC to produce an annual report on key aspects of the UK’s immigration system. That strikes me as a comprehensive offer, and I think it would be best for any annual review to be undertaken by MAC, which has a good reputation for its independence and, of course, its expertise.

Accordingly, given our existing commitment to a proper, thorough and independent review of the operation of the future immigration system, I hope that hon. Members who have tabled these new clauses will see that they are not required and feel able to withdraw them.