Unrestricted immigration from the European Union was a driving factor in the Brexit vote, so one might ask why the Government is only now commissioning a report into its impact on the UK economy.
Companies have been clamouring for clarity from the Government on the issue as the academic sector, agriculture, manufacturing and the hospitality trade all rely on large influxes of people to operate.
The Confederation of British Industry says employers “urgently” need answers while the Institute of Directors calls the report “long overdue”.
Consider the timescale: the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is made up of one chairman (Professor Alan Manning from the London School of Economics) and three independent economists who now have to commission data and solicit responses from industry and Government.
It is expected their report will be ready by September 2018, just six months before we are due to leave the EU.
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Quite understandably, some are asking whether that would be enough time to inform our negotiating strategy or help build a new EU visa system by the time we are scheduled to Brexit in March 2019.
Labour’s shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, is conciliatory: “There is far too much heat and not enough light about immigration, so any truly objective and well-informed analysis must be welcome.”
But she warns: “The report should be published. There must be no repeat of the buried Home Office reports into international students, or the Saudi funding of terrorism. And there should be no attempt to reform the immigration system until the report has been published and debated.”
Labour of course is in its own bind on Brexit, with members of the shadow cabinet seeming to set their own red lines.
The official line they appear to be settling on is an aspiration to secure “tariff-free access to the single market” – but while international trade spokesman Barry Gardiner thinks we would have to leave the customs union, many of his colleagues disagree.
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The Liberal Democrats have a quieter voice in the Commons but they are more consistent, saying this report is too late because business needs “answers now”.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who alarmed industry with a firebrand speech calling on bosses to reveal how many foreign workers they employ at last year’s party conference, does hint at when we can expect some clarity.
She tells us to expect “some initial thinking on options for the future immigration systems” in the autumn, presumably at the party conference.
Today’s announcement won’t quell the speculation.