Leave Means Leave, backed by some Tory MPs, calls for freeze on non-skilled arrivals and £35,000 salary minimum for skilled workers
A hardline pro-Brexit group backed by more than 20 Conservative MPs has called for net migration to be cut to 50,000 a year, with work visas limited to those earning at least £35,000 a year, a plan criticised by opponents as likely to damage the economy and harm the NHS.
The proposal by Leave Means Leave – whose Tory backers include Owen Paterson, Dominic Raab, John Whittingdale and Gerald Howarth – marks something of a rearguard action by strong Brexit supporters over immigration numbers.
David Davis, the Brexit secretary, has said immigration levels could still rise after Britain leaves the EU, while Theresa May used an interview on the day article 50 as triggered to say she could not guarantee it would be “significantly lower”.
The immigration plan, written by former leadership contender Steven Woolfe, would involve a five-year freeze on all unskilled immigrants, with those allowed in needing to pass a points system and be sponsored for a well-paid job.
The proposal was condemned by backers of the Open Britain group, which supports a softer Brexit, who said it would badly damage the economy and harm the NHS.
The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, said Leave Means Leave seemed intent on “crippling the British economy and wrecking public services by keeping essential workers out of the UK”.
The report by Woolfe, who quit Ukip last year after a physical altercation with fellow Ukip MEP Mike Hookem, does allow scope for some seasonal workers to come to the UK temporarily.
But the plan, to be fully unveiled on Monday, would see a five-year freeze on unskilled people moving to the UK, while working visas for skilled immigrants would only be granted if they meet tough criteria.
This would include an Australian-style points system determining how necessary their skills are and require a job paying at least £35,000 a year, plus an English test, five years of private health insurance and sufficient savings.
While the plan would not restrict students specifically, they would count towards the target of 50,000 net arrivals a year.
Woolfe said that while net migration from students alone is about 70,000 a year, the target was possible by greatly reducing the number of workers coming into Britain. He also told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that the economy would not overly suffer, as he did not believe existing overseas workers would leave, while there would be a focus on training young Britons.
It was, he argued, “a template for this government to achieve what the British people wanted” from Brexit.
Woolfe said: “I believe that we can have highly skilled workers into this country, with a really dominant and important points-based system which has at its core a fair, flexible and forward-thinking philosophy, and the idea that bringing net migration down will work for our county.”
However, Open Britain said the idea would cause skills shortages for businesses and the NHS, and was fundamentally unfair.
Conservative MP Anna Soubry, who backs Open Britain, said: “We have seen encouraging signs from the prime minister that she accepts and understands the reality facing British business – they will continue to need overseas workers for years to come.
“Migrant workers contribute to our economy and to British culture – we should be welcoming them in the traditional spirit of British tolerance. Leave Means Leave clearly don’t understand why British business relies on migrant workers.”
Labour’s Pat McFadden said ministers had been encouraging over planning carefully for the aftermath of Brexit: “They would be better continuing with that path and levelling with the public rather than giving in to the more ideological calls from some in this debate.”
Speaking for the Liberal Democrats, the party’s peer, Brian Paddick, said: “Leave Means Leave are clearly intent on crippling the British economy and wrecking public services by keeping essential workers out of the UK.
“Immigration has had a positive effect on our economy, our public services and our communities. Adopting an isolationist, xenophobic approach will leave us all worse off.”
April 9th, 2017: The Guardian