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IPPR report suggests free movement for certain key workers would help economy thrive post-Brexit

In a new report, IPPR has made the case for a new deal on migration as part of the Brexit negotiations that allows free movement but only for certain categories of people - for instance particular occupations or sectors.

IPPR argues that in a UK-EU agreement on migration, the government should consider how to secure an ambitious free trade deal, how best to avoid negative effects on the labour market, and address public concern on immigration.

Migration is expected to be front and centre in the forthcoming EU negotiations and, given the importance of Brexit in the 2017 general election, all political parties will need to make a decision on the issue of immigration for their manifestos.

IPPR analysis shows that:

  • Based on evidence from past trade deals, opting to exclude immigration from the Brexit negotiations would significantly increase the likelihood of a limited and disadvantageous trade deal;
  • Certain sectors, such as hotels and restaurants and manufacturing, rely heavily on lower-skilled EU labour - 28% of the food manufacturing workforce and 19% of domestic personnel are EU nationals in lower-skilled work;
  • Only 11% of the UK public expect full control over EU immigration post-Brexit and, excluding the ‘don’t knows’, a majority accept that there is a trade-off between restricting freedom of movement and accessing the single market.

The report considers a range of options for an agreement on UK-EU migration post-Brexit, including a system which would apply the current Tier 2 rules for non-EU skilled workers to EU nationals. It finds that a system of this type is likely to be both damaging for the EU trade negotiations and harmful to UK’s the labour market. This is particularly the case for the hotel and restaurants sector – where an estimated 16% of the total workforce are EU nationals who would be ineligible under Tier 2 rules – and in manufacturing and agriculture, where the respective shares are 10% and 9%.

IPPR is instead calling for a system that allows free movement for certain flows as this would have the greatest likelihood of negotiating an advantageous trade deal, guarantee greater labour market stability, and be more likely to secure public support. If this fails to be agreed with the EU, the government should seek a deal on temporary controls on free movement.

For either of these options, the government should build regional flexibility into the system to reflect the different attitudes to EU immigration and economic needs across the country.

Marley Morris, senior research fellow, said, “Over the next two years, the government is aiming to complete the challenging task of securing a ‘withdrawal agreement’ with the EU, and a new treaty setting out the terms of a future partnership.

“As parties develop their own manifestos and also their pitches to Europe ahead of the general election, IPPR is arguing that their post-Brexit immigration policies should find a compromise between the UK and the EU by giving the UK greater control over EU migration, while keeping elements of the current migration rules.

“Excessive restrictions on EU migration would be self-defeating, as our analysis of the role of EU nationals in the labour market shows, and also sacrifice the possibility of a more ambitious trade deal.

“And evidence on attitudes to immigration and Brexit shows that a majority of the public expect compromise from the UK-EU discussions. Therefore, there is every interest in the government taking a pragmatic, open-minded approach to the forthcoming negotiations.”

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