The Home Office is being accused of a “mean and cynical” immigration crackdown after a leaked Brexit blueprint revealed plans to slam the door on thousands of unskilled EU migrants.
Under detailed proposals drawn up by Home Office officials, Britain will end Brussels’ free movement of labour rules immediately after Brexit and introduce restrictions to deter all but highly skilled EU workers.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said free movement of people would end in 2019 with Brexit, but insisted “there is a balance to be struck”.
“We want to attract to this country and not shut the door on highly skilled people who want to come here and make a contribution to society,” he told Sky News.
“But equally we have to make sure that British companies are also prepared to train and train up British workers,” he added.
“The public are very clear, they want to see immigration not stopped but brought properly under control, being managed downwards. And they also want to be clear that we implement what they voted for in the Brexit referendum – that we take back control.”
He said firm proposals would be made clear later in the year.
The 82-page document, marked as extremely sensitive and dated August 2017, amounts to a “British jobs for British workers” strategy and will delight hard-line Brexiteers but anger pro-Remain MPs.
It says: “Put plainly, this means that, to be considered valuable to the country as a whole, immigration should benefit not just the migrants themselves but also make existing residents better off.”
The document proposes measures to drive down the number of lower-skilled EU migrants by offering them residency for a maximum of only two years.
Those in “high-skilled occupations” would be granted permits to work three to five years.
Image: The Home Office proposals have since ‘changed substantially’
The document also describes a phased introduction to a new immigration system; ending the right to settle in Britain for most EU migrants and tough new restrictions on rights to bring in family members – meaning many families could be split up.
Showing a passport would be mandatory for all EU nationals wanting to enter Britain and there would be a system of temporary biometric residence permits for all EU nationals coming into the UK after Brexit for more than a few months.
The Home Office paper is entitled ‘The Border, Immigration and Citizenship System After the UK Leaves the European Union’ and has already prompted a fierce political row, after being leaked to The Guardian.
A Government spokesperson told Sky News: “We do not comment on leaked draft documents.
“We will be setting out our initial proposals for a new immigration system which takes back control of the UK’s borders later in the autumn.”
But Sky sources have confirmed it is an authentic Home Office document, although it contains just draft proposals that do not necessarily reflect ministerial thinking and are not Government policy.
One insider told Sky News: “This draft is a relatively early version and the proposals have since changed substantially.”
Video: How can Britain curb immigration?
Opposition MPs have reacted angrily to the leak, which comes only weeks after rows over Home Office letters threatening EU citizens with deportation and discredited statistics on overseas students remaining in the UK.
Labour MP Alison McGovern, a leading supporter of the pro-Remain group Open Britain, said: “This leaked document is part and parcel of a mean and cynical approach which is already deterring people from coming here.
“For example, by sending deportation letters to people with every right to be here, and justifying a Home Office crackdown on international students by deploying totally bogus statistics.”
Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee of MPs, added: “This document seems to contradict the Home Secretary’s decision just over a month ago to ask the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to provide all the evidence to underpin a new immigration policy.
“Why have they asked the MAC to do a major programme of work if they have already decided what they want to do?”
London mayor Sadiq Khan branded the proposals “a blueprint on how to strangle our economy”, while Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the plans were “wrong in principle and would be deeply economically damaging”.
Trades Union Congress (TUC) general secretary Frances O’Grady claimed the plans “would do nothing to tackle falling living standards and insecure jobs”, adding: “These plans would create an underground economy, encouraging bad bosses to exploit migrants and undercut decent employers offering good jobs.”
Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, said: “Food and drink manufacturing, Britain’s largest manufacturing sector, will be alarmed by the proposals.
“If this does represent the Government’s thinking it shows a deep lack of understanding of the vital contribution that EU migrant workers make – at all skill levels – across the food chain.”
Image: The document proposes ending Brussels’ free movement rules
Other proposals in the Home Office document include:
:: Plans to restrict EU immigration by giving “preference in the job market to resident workers”. The Government could also restrict EU nationals from seeking work, reduce the opportunities for workers to settle in the UK long-term, and limit the number of EU citizens able to come to the UK to do low-skilled work.
:: Proposals for a “stepping stone” temporary implementation period for “at least two years” after Brexit day. That would be followed by the introduction of the full immigration policy for EU nationals.
:: Plans to scrap EU rules on the rights of extended family members to reside in the UK. The document says “there is virtually no limit on the distance of the relationship between the EU citizen and the family member” in the current system. “We propose to define family members as direct family members only, plus durable partners,” it adds.
:: If an EU national living in the UK wants to bring their spouse from outside the EU here, he or she will have to earn a minimum of £18,600 a year, bringing EU nationals in line with the restriction already imposed on Britons.
:: No new border checks for EU nationals entering the country, although they will be required to travel on a passport not a national identity card. Instead all new EU arrivals will have “deemed leave” to enter Britain for an as yet unspecified period, likely to between three and six months. After that, to stay longer, they will have to apply for a biometric residence permit, which may include a fingerprint.
:: In contrast to the “free movement directive”, residence permits will not be granted to jobseekers. A specific “income threshold” will be introduced for “self-sufficient” migrants.
:: Plans to introduce “right to work” checks. These would have to be carried out by employers, with criminal sanctions possible against companies and individuals if illegal working is discovered.
On its “Britain first” theme, the document states: “We are clear that, wherever possible, UK employers should look to meet their labour needs from resident labour.
“It is now more important than ever that we have the right skills domestically to build a strong and competitive economy.”
The paper adds that although long-term net migration from the EU has fallen over the last year to 133,000, it cannot be controlled because free movement rules give EU citizens “a right to reside in the UK regardless of the economic needs of the country”.
Source: Sky News