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Cry a river for penny-pinching firms moaning that Brits will get jobs now that Brexit has locked door for unskilled EU workers

Damian Wilson
Damian Wilson
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
Cry a river for penny-pinching firms moaning that Brits will get jobs now that Brexit has locked door for unskilled EU workers
As the UK government unveils its points-based system, putting an end to open door EU immigration for good, British firms who overdosed on unskilled, cheap labour now need to face up to a new reality, and they are not happy.

With the bold announcement of details about a points-based system for migrants wishing to come to live and work in the UK, Home Secretary Priti Patel may have caused some uproar, but this was a festering wound of an issue that needed to be cauterised. 

While the liberals are claiming that the UK has pulled the drawbridge up on migration, the more accurate view is that the sun has set on the day of low-skilled, non-English speaking immigration — for now.

Well, partly. Because while those attempting to come to Britain legally face a far higher barrier to entry than previously, there will still be lorries packed with Vietnamese migrants sneaking through East Anglian ports, students overstaying their study visas and extended families exploiting lax reunion laws that need to be addressed.

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And of course, there is the UK’s role in providing asylum to those fleeing war and persecution from Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere. Thankfully, free of the necessity to meet EU targets we can just decide ourselves what is right.

These are still big arguments that need to be had and decisions must be made if the government is serious about “taking back control of its borders” in a meaningful way, and not just one that cuts the mustard for the time being, but that can be tweaked in the future to dilute its potency.

While your average Brexit voter might be satisfied at the latest news, those in business who have relied on cheap EU labour for the last 15 or so years have their knickers in a twist. It seems the PM’s undiplomatic retort to “F*** business” at a diplomatic soirée back in 2018 may be more than just a throwaway line.

Because those businesses in hospitality, agriculture, distribution centers and the like will have to suck up the pain here. Asking that in the future they sponsor jobs for their migrant workforce, insist that they speak English and that they have never been to jail for more than a year seems sensible and should have been in place way back.

For them to complain that they need a transition period to get used to the idea seems a little hypocritical.

Back in 2004, when Poland joined the EU, the UK was exceptional in that it allowed open-door immigration from Day One, while both France and Germany insisted on transitional arrangements.

You didn’t hear British firms complaining then, chomping at the bit to get hold of cheap, cheap labour.

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The wage compression that followed this modern-day gold rush, keeping salaries for UK nationals artificially low for years has only just been partially redressed this week when the average wage finally surpassed 2008 levels.

Then there were the cultural implications across the UK, with local people resenting the influx of eastern European nationals, often citing the fact that the newcomers did not speak English and took local jobs as the twin reasons for that resentment. As I was working in the boiler room of British politics at that time, I can confirm that this message was the fuel used to stoke the fire that drove one of the key campaign engines.

Brexit offered a chance to redress those specific EU-related problems and the new system is the result of the government’s efforts to deliver on what the people wanted. 

And it is what they wanted. Immigration was far and above the issue of Brexit, as Professor Matthew Goodwin from the University of Kent starkly displayed in his very accessible research. Not the economy, not trade, not the environment. Immigration.

So if Boris Johnson and his pro-Brexit government are serious about staying in power, it was vital that they move quickly at the first opportunity with policies the people could understand and believe were workable.

Importantly for the PM, he needed the focus to be off the usual unreachable migration targets. More than one Home Office minister and their boss have been found looking stupid when Office of National Statistics figures make their appearance showing reality a long way out of step with the promises of politicians.

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And even if the points system sounds kinda complicated, the concept is an easy one to get to grips with.

Now the legislation needs to pass muster with the House of Commons, not too difficult given its current political configuration, then it needs to actually work.

Because it will only be a success if it delivers and, despite the fanfare today, there are still plenty around who want to see this fail.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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