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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

The government should seek a new deal on migration that allows free movement for key workers in the economy

IPPR analysis suggests that a deal that allows free movement for certain categories of workers would help the UK’s post-Brexit economy thrive

In a new report, IPPR the progressive policy think tank, makes the case for a new deal on migration as part of the Brexit negotiations that allows free movement but only for certain categories of people - for instance particular occupations or sectors.

IPPR argues that in an UK-EU agreement on migration, the government should consider how to secure an ambitious free trade deal, how best to avoid negative effects on the labour market, and address public concern on immigration.

Migration is expected to be front and centre in the forthcoming EU negotiations and, given the importance of Brexit in the 2017 general election, all political parties will need to make a decision on the issue of immigration for their manifestos.

IPPR analysis shows that:

  • Based on evidence from past trade deals, opting to exclude immigration from the Brexit negotiations would significantly increase the likelihood of a limited and disadvantageous trade deal;
  • Certain sectors, such as hotels and restaurants and manufacturing, rely heavily on lower-skilled EU labour - 28% of the food manufacturing workforce and 19% of domestic personnel are EU nationals in lower-skilled work;
  • Only 11% of the UK public expect full control over EU immigration post-Brexit and, excluding the ‘don’t knows’, a majority accept that there is a trade-off between restricting freedom of movement and accessing the single market.

The report considers a range of options for an agreement on UK-EU migration post-Brexit, including a system which would apply the current Tier 2 rules for non-EU skilled workers to EU nationals. It finds that a system of this type is likely to be both damaging for the EU trade negotiations and harmful to UK’s the labour market. This is particularly the case for the hotel and restaurants sector – where an estimated 16 per cent of the total workforce are EU nationals who would be ineligible under Tier 2 rules – and in manufacturing and agriculture, where the respective shares are 10 and 9 per cent.

IPPR is instead calling for a system that allows free movement for certain flows as this would have the greatest likelihood of negotiating an advantageous trade deal, guarantee greater labour market stability, and be more likely to secure public support. If this fails to be agreed with the EU, the government should seek a deal on temporary controls on free movement.

For either of these options, the government should build regional flexibility into the system to reflect the different attitudes to EU immigration and economic needs across the country.

Marley Morris, Senior Research Fellow said:

“Over the next two years, the government is aiming to complete the challenging task of securing a ‘withdrawal agreement’ with the EU, and a new treaty setting out the terms of a future partnership.

“As parties develop their own manifestos and also their pitches to Europe ahead of the general election, IPPR is arguing that their post-Brexit immigration policies should find a compromise between the UK and the EU by giving the UK greater control over EU migration, while keeping elements of the current migration rules.

“Excessive restrictions on EU migration would be self-defeating, as our analysis of the role of EU nationals in the labour market shows, and also sacrifice the possibility of a more ambitious trade deal.

“And evidence on attitudes to immigration and Brexit shows that a majority of the public expect compromise from the UK-EU discussions. Therefore, there is every interest in the government taking a pragmatic, open-minded approach to the forthcoming negotiations.”

As an independent charity IPPR does not support any party or their policies. During this election it will be providing independent analysis of policies and arguing that all parties should adopt progressive positions on the key issues facing the UK.



Becky Malone 07585 772633 [email protected]

Editor’s Notes:

  1. Embargoed copies of the report for the media can be obtained here.
  2. IPPR aims to influence policy in the present and reinvent progressive politics in the future, and is dedicated to the better country that Britain can be through progressive policy and politics. With nearly 60 staff across four offices throughout the UK, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.

    Our independent research is wide ranging, it covers the economy, work, skills, transport, democracy, the environment, education, energy, migration and healthcare among many other areas.