The Minister of State for Immigration claims that Britain will no longer be subject to European Union’s migration regime after Brexit, contradicting widespread reports of “transition deal” provisions which would see Free Movement continue for several years.
Announcing a Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) investigation into the impact of EU migrants on the economy in an interview with the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, Tory MP Brandon Lewis claimed, “Free Movement of Labour ends when we leave the European Union in the Spring of 2019”.
The unexpected announcement comes hot on the heels of Brexit campaign leader Nigel Farage warning that “the old alliance of big business and a Tory government” were preparing a “great Brexit betrayal” on immigration.
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) July 26, 2017
The former UKIP chief noted that including Free Movement in any transition deal would mean “Britain will have to wait until at least 2021 — five years after the Brexit referendum — to take back control.”
Lewis’s assurances on Radio 4 may have been calculated to assuage public fears about an impending betrayal, although in a separate article for The Times Red Box he noted that he and Treasury economic secretary Stephen Barclaw are discussing “how, after we leave the EU, the UK can still continue to welcome those workers that play such an important role in our economy”.
This leaves open the possibility that an arrangement very similar to Free Movement will be made, given employers’ dependence on low-cost foreign workers.
— Leave.EU (@LeaveEUOfficial) June 21, 2016
Perhaps significantly, the minister would not confirm whether the Government intends to meet its long-standing pledge to bring net immigration down to “the tens of thousands” by the end of the current two-year Parliament, suggesting that a significant reduction should not be expected in the near future.
Current levels of immigration remain near record levels, with the net figure standing at just short of a quarter of a million a year and the gross figure significantly higher.
LISTEN | Immigration minister refuses to confirm when the government will honour its pledge to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands. pic.twitter.com/27ILPHMdEr
— Leave.EU (@LeaveEUOfficial) July 27, 2017
The fact that immigration is continuing to hit fresh highs seven years after the Tory Party was returned to office on a commitment to bring it below 100,000 in 2010 can perhaps be explained by recent revelations from former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.
The Bullingdon Club alumnus has boasted that his party made a deliberate decision not to act — “though we could” — because “[N]one of [the Cabinet’s] senior members supports the pledge in private”.