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Brexit Deal or No Deal, Low-Skilled Migration May Continue

The Home Office appears to have drawn up potentially controversial immigration contingencies for a no-deal Brexit

At the time of writing, absolutely nobody knows how Brexit will pan out or what the implications might be for the 800,000 or so British citizens living on mainland Europe and the three million Europeans living in Britain. What we do know for sure is that the 500+ page withdrawal agreement makes it clear that nothing will change and that both side’s citizens can remain.

But it is almost certain that the withdrawal agreement will be rejected by the British Parliament. Where does that leave us?

This week, our Prime Minister is embarking on a nationwide tour to sell her deal – some might think this is an odd move considering there is no public vote. As she hits the nation’s TV and radio studios, town halls and perhaps the occasional soapbox, her colleagues in Westminster are plotting her downfall and citizens on both side of the English Channel wonder what their status might be in the event of a (likely) no-deal scenario. The immigration status of millions of people hangs in the balance. Or does it?

Media reports suggest that the government has a secret plan. According to leaked documents from the Home Office, the government has drawn up post-Brexit plans to give low-skilled migrants an 11-month visa with ‘restricted entitlements and rights’ – this means that EU citizens would still be able to enter the country and work. An intelligent guess suggests the restrictions would pertain to benefits and healthcare. Why would they do this?

Throughout the referendum campaign and during negotiations, UK politicians and the media have spoken about the potential damage to British industry if low-skilled EU citizens are no longer able to turn up and work at will. Many migrants from the EU travel to Britain for well-paid seasonal work – particularly in agriculture. Who will pick British strawberries in 2019?

So, the issuance of special 11-month visas would provide relief for British farmers and factories. In addition, those arriving under the 11-month visa would not be counted as migrants because they will not be allowed to remain – this is good for any government hell bent on proving to voters that migration figures are in decline. It is also clear from the Prime Minister’s almost daily references to free movement, that the government believes immigration is the number one concern for leave voters. That of course, is unproven.

These leaked documents may form part of a plan to prepare for a no-deal scenario, which would shore up British agricultural prospects whilst massaging migration statistics. We already know that the government has committed to protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK and vice-versa. What we may be seeing now is a strategy for the important import of low-skilled workers, whatever the outcome. This is just the kind of contingency planning that the government should be making.

As Theresa May tours the nation and her own political party enters an unprecedented civil war in Westminster, our civil servants may very well be working behind the scenes to create a whole new visa system to allow for unskilled workers to enter the country. No matter what. That is arguably very good for farmers, good for young EU citizens wishing to travel good news for the wider economy.

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