May cites Indian techies, JLR in bid to sell Brexit deal

Vidya Ram London | Updated on November 19, 2018

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) annual conference in London on Monday   -  Retuers

Immigration system will be driven by skills, says British PM

British Prime Minister Theresa May continued to defy her critics as she reached out to business, with an attempt to focus on her vision for the post-Brexit immigration regime that would ensure EU nationals, regardless of skill level could no longer “jump the queue ahead of…software developers from Delhi.”

The end to free movement is an aspect of the withdrawal deal that May has sought to focus on as she has stood firm against critics across the political spectrum after reaching an agreement on a withdrawal deal with EU leaders that sparked several ministerial resignations and has led to members of her party submitting letters of no-confidence in her.

While immigration concerns were seen as one of the catalysts of the Brexit vote, industry has voiced its concerns, particularly about the ability for it to access the skills base it needed. Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of industry body the CBI, while welcoming the progress that had been made in the deal overall cautioned about the government’s vision for post-Brexit immigration policy, warning that a policy focused only on highly-skilled workers would lead to a skills shortage. “What has been proposed so far won’t work; the idea that anyone earning less than £30,000 can’t contribute to our economy, for instance.”

“Government may be listening to business when it comes to immigration, but they still aren’t hearing. A false choice between high and low skilled workers would deny businesses, from house builders to healthcare providers, the vital skills they need to succeed.”

Tough environment

Her concerns were echoed by Surinder Arora, an Indian-origin businessman who founded the Arora Group of hotels, who raised concerns about the ability of businesses such as his to access the skills base he needed. The situation had been “tough” for business since the referendum, and he urged the Prime Minister not to forget all businesses including the tourism and travel industry, during a question and answer session at the conference.

However, May insisted her strategy of focussing on enabling access for highly-skilled workers was the strategy recommended by the independent Migration Advisory Committee. She suggested it was a time for business to step up its work too including by helping to develop the skills base in the UK. “At a time when many are questioning whether free markets and an open trading economy can work for everyone in society…all of you must play your part too, by stepping up to demonstrate that you truly have a stake in the success of this country.”

The issue of non-EU versus EU immigration has been a controversial one throughout the Brexit referendum and after. In October the government announced that Indian citizens and other non-EU citizens will have the same immigration rights as EU citizens in the U.K., under a system that will give priority to high skilled workers no matter where they come from. However, the new system will introduce even further restrictions on the ability of Indian workers and their families to come to the UK, requiring any family to be sponsored by the employer.

Firm resistance

May has fought back firmly against the opposition to her withdrawal agreement from within her party, bolstered by support from industry, and some significant voices in her own party. Earlier in the day, cabinet member Michael Gove, who has remained within the cabinet, said that the Prime Minister had his “full support.” Media reports had suggested that Gove, and several other cabinet members had remained there to attempt to revise the deal, though May has insisted that there is limited room for manoeuvre.

A summit is set to take place this weekend in Brussels for European leaders to formalise the deal that has the official backing of the British cabinet. EU lead negotiator Michel Barnier appealed for calm on Monday to ensure that Britain could lead the EU in “an orderly manner.” While business is critical of the government’s post-Brexit immigration policy, they have welcomed some of the clarity, including on arrangement for the smooth flow of goods between the UK and the EU, an aspect that May also focussed on in her attempt to reach beyond parliamentarians and sell the deal to business leaders and the public.

Pointing to automakers such as Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan and others that relied on “just in time supply chains” and supported tens of thousands of jobs directly and indirectly in the country, she said that the proposed deal would “work for all of them and sustain the livelihoods they provide to working people across the country”. The auto industry has been cautious in its response to the withdrawal agreement, saying it was a positive step to avert the “devastating consequences” of a no-deal Brexit. “For the automotive industry Brexit is about damage limitation,” said the industry body the SMMT last week. “Truly frictionless trade is the only way to ensure the industry’s future success and this should be the objective of all parties as we move into negotiating the permanent UK-EU relationship,”

Published on November 19, 2018

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