Impact of post-Brexit immigration changes ‘modest’, says MAC chair

MPs told low-skilled migrants generally have ‘fiscally negative’ effect

Any changes to migration rules following Brexit will have a small impact on the UK’s wider labour market issues, the chair of the government’s independent advisor on immigration said yesterday.

Speaking in front of the home affairs committee, Professor Alan Manning (pictured above), chair of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), said the impact of any changes to immigration systems post-Brexit on the overarching economy were likely to be “modest”. 

“I’m not sure that we would see them as quite as big as I think sometimes they’ve been reported,” Manning said of the changes the MAC had put forward. 

Last month, the MAC published its long-awaited EEA migration in the UK: final report. The document noted it was not felt a specific low-skilled immigration scheme was needed, with the exception of a seasonal agricultural workers' scheme.

Last week, the government announced its post-Brexit immigration system would give preferential treatment to high-skilled migrants compared with their lower-skilled counterparts, while workers from the EU27 would be treated the same as those from elsewhere in the world. These plans, which are due to be elaborated on in a white paper later this year, largely mirror the MAC report proposals. 

However, other researchers have slammed the suggestions. In particular, the Institute for Public Policy Research estimated 75 per cent of EU nationals working full-time in the country at the moment would be barred from the UK if the recommendations were put into place. 

Speaking to the MPs, Manning pointed out that the effect of lower-skilled EEA migrants tended to be “fiscally negative”. 

“As just a sort of batting average composition effect, they make the UK a slighter lower wage, lower productivity kind of economy,” he added. “Any effects that they have on innovation are not positive and so on.

“And, basically, if you say, ‘What has been the benefits of these lower skilled [migrants]?’ there isn’t very much on the positive side of the ledger.”

When quizzed specifically on labour shortages in the social care sector, Manning retorted that the “central” problem in that industry was that the roles did not pay enough and the work was not attractive to either the native population or to migrants.

“The bullet has to be bitten on that,” he said. “There has to be a way to be found to make those jobs more attractive.”

Then-home secretary Amber Rudd commissioned the MAC to produce its report in July 2017. An interim report was published this March.

Yvette Cooper, chair of the home affairs committee and Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, was highly critical of the report’s methodology, lambasting the researchers for only considering “one scenario in which [migration] is not included in part of the trade discussions at all”. 

Manning commented that he did not have any insight into what was being included in the trade discussions “beyond what [he] reads in the newspapers” and the MAC wouldn’t have known enough about what was being offered to make a recommendation on these lines. 

Speaking alongside Manning, Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, noted that, although the report did not specifically tackle how migration proposals interacted with different trade deal scenarios, the conclusions that the impact of policy changes would not be great could be helpful to trade negotiators considering what compromises they could make.

“If you are getting something good in return, then the costs of making concessions on immigration are not very high,” she added.