Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 6 December 2019

Britain Decides: Immigration takes centre stage in UK election battle

Business leader expressed fears there would not be enough workers after Brexit

Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised by Boris Johnson for being ambigous on immigration and Brexit. AP
Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised by Boris Johnson for being ambigous on immigration and Brexit. AP

Days after pledging new restrictions on rights for EU migrants, Britain’s ruling Conservatives gave business leaders a promise that people from the rest of the world would fare better under a new immigration policy.

With the campaign for the December 12 general election in full swing, Boris Johnson, the prime minister promised a points-based immigration system would be superior to the European freedom of movement that has dominated recruitment rolls in recent decades.

The government has pledged to cut immigration, a key reason why in 2016 the UK voted to leave the European Union, and take back control of the country’s border. Almost all people wishing to come to the UK for work will need a job offer although the government has abolished the plan of previous Prime Minister Theresa May to get annual net migration below 100,000. Preferential access to healthcare and welfare for Europeans would be ended under the new regime.

But business figures are worried that Brexit may lead to serious labour shortfalls regardless of the profession, especially at lower pay grades.

"When we hear talk about brightest and best, I think that is a worry. If you do want to build 200,000 houses a year, you don't just need the architects and the designers, you need the carpenters, you need the electricians, you need the labourers,” said Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry.

"We need people to come and help us renew our economy. It's not just brightest and best, it's people at all skill levels across our economy that we need,” she told Sky.

The main opposition party Labour, which will announce its manifesto on Thursday, says it wants EU nationals planning to remain in the UK to be able to bring their families over.

“There are also huge economic demands. There are 40,000 nurse vacancies in the NHS, partly because so many EU nationals have left. We have a shortage of doctors. We cannot exist in isolation,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who refused to confirm if he would allow freedom of movement from the EU, told the BBC on Sunday.

“Therefore there has to be migration into Britain in order to maintain our economy and our services. That will be reflected in our policy that you see on Thursday,” he added.

December’s election will pit the pro-Brexit Conservatives against an array of opposition parties who either favour a second referendum on the departure or remaining in the EU altogether. The pound rallied to a six-month high as the Conservatives led opinion polls, raising the prospect of Brexit happening on January 31.

On Monday Mr Johnson told business leaders at the CBI’s conference that his Brexit deal would lead to the stability they seek.

Mr Corbyn, a left-wing politician not traditionally seen as an ally of business leaders, made no apologies for wanting to raise taxes.

“It’s not anti-business to be against poverty pay,” he said.

“It’s not anti-business to say the largest corporations should pay their taxes just as smaller companies do. It’s not anti-business to want prosperity in every part of our country, not only in the financial centre of the City of London.”

Mr Johnson announced he would overturn a move to cut corporation tax so funds could be diverted to health services.

Updated: November 18, 2019 06:26 PM

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