Brexit secretary: We feel ‘in our hearts’ EU citizens should stay

30 Aug 2018 By Hayley Kirton

Dominic Raab provides reassurances, but academics warn of exploitation of low-skilled migrants

The Brexit secretary yesterday reiterated it was still the government’s intention to help EU citizens stay in the UK if there were a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

Speaking to the House of Lords’ EU select committee, Dominic Raab said that, in the “unlikely” situation the UK failed to strike a deal, “we want [EU nationals] to stay”.

“This isn’t just a rational statement on our reliance on the contribution that they make but very much what we feel in our hearts about them,” he added. “And I’m happy to continue saying that because it’s how I feel...about the role and the contribution the EU makes and it’s certainly this government’s position.”

However, further details on how settled status would work in a ‘no deal’ Brexit situation were notable by their absence in the first batch of technical notes on the subject released last week. Although the Department for Exiting the European Union had not confirmed which notes would be released in the batch, it was speculated that instruction on what EU citizens in the UK could expect in a ‘no deal’ scenario would be among the earliest released. 

Earlier this week, a trial of the settled status application process opened to staff at 12 NHS trusts and three universities in the north of England. 

Under the proposed system, EU citizens who have been living in the UK for at least five years would be able to apply for settled status, allowing them to continue to live and work in the country as well as access public services. Those who have less than five years residency can apply for pre-settled status. 

The Brexit secretary, who was appointed to his role after David Davis’ July resignation, also told peers he was scheduled to travel to Brussels for further talks on Friday. However, he added that securing the Brexit deal may “creep beyond” the hoped-for deadline of the EU’s October summit. 

Meanwhile, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford published a report today urging the government to take care that lower-skilled workers were protected from exploitation if it relied on migration to fill unattractive roles post-Brexit. 

In particular, the paper argued that an employer-sponsored visa tied to particular jobs could lead to some businesses taking advantage of staff. 

“If workers can’t leave a bad job, there’s more responsibility on government to prevent exploitation,” said Madeleine Sumption, The Migration Observatory’s director. “In theory this should be possible with careful monitoring and oversight, but enforcing labour standards is not an area where the UK has the best track record.”

The research also argued that youth mobility schemes, which are sometimes put forward as a solution for filling lower-skilled roles, were ill-suited to funnelling talent towards less cosmopolitan parts of the country. 

“With skills shortages one of the key obstacles holding back UK businesses, Brexit must give rise to a comprehensive rethink of our immigration system,” remarked Edwin Morgan, director of policy at the Institute of Directors. “The first thing to go should be the arbitrary and unhelpful net migration target. We also need to be careful to avoid an overly complex visa structure that could penalise worker and business alike.”

Meanwhile, Jonathan Beech, managing director at Migrate UK, warned that a scheme which involved sponsorship of low-skilled workers would require the Home Office to “regularly audit the employers to ensure exploitation is non existent” while “associated costs may be borne by the employer – skills charges, certificate charges, etc.”. 

A Home Office spokesperson said: “After we leave the EU, we will have in place an immigration system which works in the best interests of the whole of the UK. This system will be based on evidence. The government has commissioned advice from the Migration Advisory Committee and we continue to engage with a range of stakeholders.”

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