David Goodhart – Policy Exchange’s Head of the Demography, Immigration, and Integration Unit – appeared before the Select Committee for Exiting the European Union to discuss the immigration aspects of ‘The UK’s negotiating objectives for its withdrawal from the EU’.
He argued that with the end of freedom of movement the UK economy should remain relatively open to high skill workers from the EU but should squeeze those with mid and lower skills, while ensuring sectors that have become heavily dependent on EU labour are given time to adjust. Goodhart pointed out that British employers will have to work harder to find suitable employees from the existing population and will have to reverse the sharp cuts in spending on training of recent years. “It always amazes me that so many people who claim to be on the left see this issue almost entirely through the lens of the business interest. Parts of business have behaved in recent years as if they no longer have any sort of obligation to British citizens and national social contracts… but the period of such heavy dependence on foreign labour and other countries’ training systems will, I hope, soon be at an end,” he said.
He also argued that in the long run it would be sensible to shift from the government’s current net immigration target to a permanent residence target as we move towards a system in which an increasing proportion of immigration is temporary. “This is the way of squaring the circle between the public preference for much slower demographic change and the needs of an open economy and society,” he said. (In recent years grants of permanent residence have been running at around, or below, 100,000 a year despite gross inflows of over 600,000. Grants of residence are likely to rise sharply in the next few years when the position of EU citizens is regularised.)