Home Office plans to curb EU immigration would be 'economic self-harm'

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A leaked Home Office blueprint for immediate curbs on immigration from the European Union after Brexit would be a devastating act of “self harm” for London, business leaders warned today.

Senior figures from industries ranging from tourism to construction lined up to condemn the draft proposals for driving down the number of EU workers in the UK. 

There are almost 700,000 EU-born overseas workers in London — a figure that has doubled in a decade — contributing tens of billions of pounds to the British economy.

The proposals suggest that free movement of labour will cease as soon as Brexit is completed with lower-skilled workers only given a maximum of two years residency in Britain.

But John Dickie, director of business group London First, said: “Bringing the shutters down without a credible plan to fill the massive skills gaps left behind would be economic self-harm.

“London and the South-East already have a shortfall of 60,000 construction workers.” The chief executive of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Colin Stanbridge, said: “The UK’s and especially London’s economy is heavily reliant on the EU workforce of many skill sets. We need not only the ‘brightest and best’ but also the capacity to fill the skills shortage in a huge variety of sectors.”

Tony Travers, director of research body LSE London, said it was “hard to exaggerate” the impact that pulling up the drawbridge could have on London’s economy.

He said: “London relies on migrant labour from the EU and elsewhere more than any other part of the UK. In London everything from care homes and hospitals to coffee shops have significant dependency on migration.”

One of the worst impacted sectors would be the bar, restaurant and hotels industry where about a third of London’s 250,000 workforce is from EU countries.

Ufi Ibrahim,  chief executive of trade body the British Hospitality Association, said: “The fantastic culture that has developed in London in the past decades — the bars, the restaurants, the theatres — are serviced by so-called unskilled workers, many of whom are from the EU.” 

Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, said: “If this does represent the Government’s thinking it shows a deep lack of understanding of the vital contribution that EU migrant workers make — at all skill levels — across the food chain.”

The health sector, where around one in eight of London’s doctors are from the EU, also warned of the potential impact. 

Dr Andrew Dearden, treasurer of the British Medical Association, said: “It would  be a huge mistake to restrict the pool for recruiting NHS staff from outside the UK. Recruiting from the European Economic Area has been vital in dealing with staff shortages in health and social care.”

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “If there is a migration cliff-edge, it’s the NHS going over it. The Government is failing to train enough British nurses. For as long as that continues, the NHS must be able to recruit the best from around Europe.”

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