Mrs May said ministers had a duty to curb immigration after last year’s EU referendum, and restated her pledge to slash net immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’
Business leaders clashed with the Government over Brexit yesterday after Theresa May pledged to curb the flow of cheap, low-skilled labour from Europe.
Business lobby groups reacted with fury to leaked Government proposals outlining a tough new immigration system after Britain leaves the EU.
Downing Street hit back, saying business needs to end its reliance on cheap migrant labour and do more to train British workers. Mrs May said ministers had a duty to curb immigration after last year’s EU referendum, and restated her pledge to slash net immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’.
But the Government was in disarray as Cabinet ministers, including Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark are understood to have concerns about slashing immigration from the EU too quickly.
Damian Green, the First Secretary of State and one of Mrs May’s closest allies, is also thought to have misgivings, and believes the plans can be toned down.
It also emerged some FTSE 100 leaders have refused to sign a letter backing the Government’s Brexit strategy. Downing Street quietly asked executives to sign an open letter saying they wanted to ‘make a success of Brexit’, and welcoming the Government’s push for a transitional deal.
But this was not welcomed by some, with one executive reportedly saying: ‘There is no way we could sign this given the current state of chaos surrounding the talks.’
It is understood the letter, obtained by Sky News, was drafted by No 10 and was due to be made public as Mrs May tries to create support for the legislation going through Parliament about our EU withdrawal.
The row followed the leak of a Home Office document setting out plans to curb immigration from the EU after Brexit.
Mrs May said: ‘Immigration has been good for the UK, but people want to see it controlled as a result of our leaving the EU.
The Government was in disarray as Cabinet ministers, including Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark are understood to have concerns about slashing immigration from the EU too quickly
‘The Government continues to believe it is important to have net migration at sustainable levels, particularly given the impact it has on people at the lower end of the income scale in depressing their wages.’
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said: ‘We have always welcomed to this country those who can make a contribution to our economy, people with high skills.
‘On the other hand we want British companies to do more to train up British workers, to do more to improve skills of those who leave our colleges. So there’s always a balance to be struck. We’re not closing the door on all future immigration but it has to be managed properly and people do expect to see the numbers coming down.’
The document, which has caused uneasiness among some ministers, suggests low-skilled workers from the EU would only be allowed to stay for a year or two, and EU citizens would be barred from moving to the UK to look for a job. Ministers are also considering a ‘direct numerical cap’ on the numbers who come here from Europe after the UK leaves in March 2019.
Big business reacted angrily to the proposals. Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, said the proposals would be ‘catastrophic’ for her industry, which relies heavily on cheap EU labour.
She said: ‘We understand the wish to reduce immigration but we need to tread carefully and be aware of the unintended consequences – some businesses will fail, taking UK jobs with them.’
Neil Carberry, of the Confederation of British Industry, said: ‘An open approach to our closest trading partners is vital for business, as it attracts investment to the UK. It also helps keep our economy moving by addressing key labour shortages.’
The Institute of Directors said business leaders would not welcome the proposals and its members would be hoping for changes in the Government’s final position.
The National Farmers’ Union said a cut in migrant workers could cause ‘massive disruption’ for the industry. Deputy president Minette Batters said 80,000 seasonal workers a year are needed ‘to plant, pick, grade and pack over 9 million tonnes of fruit, vegetable and flower crops’.
But Alp Mehmet, of the Migration Watch think-tank, said ministers were right to pressure businesses to wean themselves off cheap foreign labour. He said: ‘We want to encourage employers to train local people and make more of an effort to prepare for a time when there won’t be all these people coming in with ready-made skills prepared to work for lower wages.’
The leaked document was a draft of proposals due to be published this autumn.
Sources said a further six drafts have since been produced and it has not yet gone to ministers for approval. Senior figures in Brussels raised concerns about the document. Gianni Pittella, leader of a large group within the European Parliament, said it revealed the ‘nasty side of Theresa May’s Government’, adding: ‘Should the British Government follow the position outlined, it will certainly not help the negotiations. It adds uncertainty and confusion.’
German MEP Elmar Brok, an ally of Angela Merkel, said he was ‘shocked by the language and content of this paper’, adding: ‘I think we are in a situation that EU citizens are seen as an enemy for the UK. This is not an atmosphere where you can find solutions.’
Britain is not legally obliged to pay Brussels a penny when we leave the EU, according to analysis. Brussels is demanding up to £90billion, but the report, by the European Research Group of Tory MPs, suggests the EU may even owe Britain £9billion.
Mrs May offered the olive branch to Anna Soubry yesterday after the former minister warned the Great Repeal Bill could result in ‘an unprecedented Government power grab’
PM sweet-talks Tory remainers
Theresa May is to hold talks with Tory Remainers in a bid to prevent them wrecking her Brexit legislation.
She offered the olive branch to Anna Soubry yesterday after the former minister warned the Great Repeal Bill could result in ‘an unprecedented Government power grab’.
Dominic Grieve also warned he could rebel against the legislation, now known as the EU Withdrawal Bill.
The former attorney general claimed it could result in ‘ministerial rule by decree’.
The legislation repeals the European Communities Act 1972, directly transferring thousands of EU regulations into British law. Ministers insist the huge scale of the operation requires them to use so-called Henry VIII powers.
Build a home every three minutes for bursting UK
A home will have to be built every three minutes for at least 20 years to cope with rapid population growth, a report warned yesterday.
If official projections are correct, an extra 9.7million people will need to be housed by 2039, it said. With a typical home housing 2.3 people, 4.25million more would be needed.
The figures were set out in a pamphlet by ex-banker Lord Hodgson. The Tory peer, who last year carried out a review of electoral law for the Government, called for a public debate on the effects of population growth and immigration, which fuels it. He called on Theresa May to appoint a minister for demography to prepare the country for the rise in numbers.
Published by the Civitas think-tank, his paper said housing is ‘only the beginning of the demands any increase in population will make’. It pointed out more citizens would mean more schools and healthcare facilities would be needed, along with more teachers, doctors and nurses to run them.
It said new citizens would also need jobs, adding: ‘They will expect the huge support network demanded by modern society – not just critical support functions like the police and fire services but other softer resources such as social services and leisure facilities, such as swimming pools and football pitches.’
According to the Office for National Statistics, the population rose by 538,500 in the 12 months to the end of June last year – or 1,475 people every day. The ONS predicts immigration will fall in future years, but will still account for two thirds of the population increase expected.
Lord Hodgson said the predicted 9.7 million rise ‘is a figure difficult to imagine. To put this in context, this is equivalent to 3.5 times the population of Greater Manchester’. He added: ‘Society is underpinned by a sense of fairness. Too rapid an increase in population may challenge the concept of what is fair.’