LONDON — Business groups and the government are clashing over a big policy area: immigration.
The Confederation of British Industry, the UK’s largest business lobby group, expressed concern at the potential for immigration restrictions to hamper access to talented workers from overseas.
Meanwhile the government looks set to cut net immigration to fewer than 100,000 in the wake of Brexit, down from 273,000 in 2016, according to the BBC.
The government’s immigration target should be based on business need rather than hitting an arbitrary figure, said Carolyn Fairbairn, Confederation of British Industry’s director general, said according to a report in the Telegraph.
“Just as businesses’ physical supply chains are integrated into the EU economy as they buy and sell raw materials, parts and finished goods to and from the continent, they also send workers to and fro across the Channel, and it would be a serious blow if that flexibility is lost,” she said.
“We have a much much higher degree of integration of our businesses within Europe than we do in any other part of the world, and [this is about] the ability to move people around quickly onto a construction project or to make a television programme or to work on a legal project. We are a services based-economy and people are our currency.
“It is about maintaining that ease and flexibility and agility which is so important in today’s economy.”
The Conservative party is expected to publish its election manifesto, setting out policy pledges if Theresa May wins this year’s general election, at some point this week.
The BBC said the party would promise to cut net migration to the “tens of thousands” in the manifesto.
Even without a specific policy, Britain is becoming a less attractive place for overseas workers. The number of European Union nationals working in the UK fell in the last quarter of 2016, official data showed, adding to fears of a skills shortage.
The Office for National Statistics said the number of EU workers fell by 50,000 to 2.3 million in the final three months of last year — the biggest drop in five years according to Bloomberg.
Meanwhile, a survey by human resources group CIPD found that “almost one in three employers said that EU nationals were looking to leave their organisation as a direct result of Brexit.”
Here is the ONS chart in context, showing the trend from 1997:
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