The Government has insisted six months is “plenty of time” to consider the results of a major immigration study before new post-Brexit policies are put into place.
With ministers intent on ending free movement rules for EU workers as soon as Britain leaves the bloc, Home Secretary Amber Rudd has ordered a report on the economic impact on UK industry.
The Migration Advisory Committee, a quango that advises the Government on immigration issues, will deliver its findings in September 2018.
With the UK scheduled to depart from the EU at the end of March 2019, critics have asked why the study was not commissioned earlier – either immediately after the EU referendum or even before the vote.
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The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has also previously warned that Brexit negotiations, which will include the UK’s new migration arrangements with the bloc, will need to be wrapped up by October 2018.
This will allow time for the formal ratification of a Brexit deal by the EU’s institutions.
Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis has insisted six months is “plenty of time” to consider the study’s findings, with the committee also due to produce interim reports for the Government.
He told Sky News: “The reality is this work around what our industries need for post-Brexit when free movement ends has been ongoing since the referendum.”
The research is just “part of the process” and “not the only thing” the Government will be doing ahead of the introduction of an immigration bill in 2018 to outline post-Brexit policy, the Tory minister said.
Image: Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis defended the timing of the study
Asked whether the commissioning of the study represented a softer line on immigration in the wake of the General Election result, Mr Lewis said: “We’ve always said we want to make sure we have a smooth transition period.
“We also want to ensure we can continue to have a really prosperous economy, whilst ensuring we have what I think the British people want and they were clear about in the referendum: control of our borders and sustainable levels – reducing levels – of net migration.
“I think we can achieve both.”
Mr Lewis insisted the Government is sticking to its target to reduce net migration to the UK to below 100,000 per year, a mark it has consistently missed.
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Commenting on the commissioning of the study, Labour’s shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: “We welcome any facts around EU migration and the contribution of migration to the economy generally.
“There’s been too much heat and not enough light on migration issues.
“But not only is it a bit late to be commissioning this study now, we wonder how the Government is going to produce legislation – as it’s promised to do next year – ahead of the findings of their study.”
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Sir Ed Davey said: “The Government needs to explain why this study wasn’t commissioned a year ago, directly after the referendum.
“The NHS, businesses and universities that depend on European citizens need answers now, not in another 14 months’ time.”