South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge says the British workforce must step up if controlled migration is to work over the long term, as he voiced his support for a transition period as Britain leaves the European Union.
In a House of Commons debate on the UK’s future role in the European Economic Area (EEA) on Monday, Mr Cartlidge argued that the UK should not underestimate the amount of control it could have on immigration while remaining, in some form, a part of the EEA.
The EEA provides for the free movement of people, goods, services and capital within the European Single Market.
Mr Cartlidge suggested a transition arrangement as part of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) – through which countries that are not in the EU can participate in the EEA, excluding agriculture and fisheries policies – should be considered as a possibility.
He also stated that it was key to encourage British workers to fill the void left by any drop in migrant workers.
He said: “In my view, it’s completely unrealistic to imagine that Britain can suddenly go to a situation where it’s almost totally dependent on unskilled migration to having none at all. Many parts of industry would severely struggle.
“At this moment in time, it is illegal to enter as an unskilled migrant from outside the EU. We legally discriminate because we are members of the EU.
“In my opinion, if we go for this so-called global Brexit and open up unskilled migration through an equalised immigration system, you will simply have, at best, a reduction in EU migration and a significant rise in non-EU migration.
“The country did not vote for that. Do not underestimate the amount of control the country has in respect to immigration by being in some form of the EEA or EFTA.”
Net migration to the UK, which calculates the number of people coming into the country, minus the number of people emigrating out of it, currently stands at 246,000.
The Government has set a target of reducing net migration to under 100,000, though a time frame for when it would want to achieve this figure by has not been specified.
Mr Cartlidge said he believed a variation on the existing free movement system would not be unpalatable to voters, stating Britons themselves would not want to be subjected to visa controls in other European countries.
But he added: “Don’t underestimate this issue about immigration.
“There will be voters out there who will feel betrayed if they wake up and see, on leaving the EU, that we simply have a seesaw of immigration from EU at one end to non-EU to the other.
“They are expecting immigration to fall in totality. The truth is, if you want to control immigration in the long run, you cannot just have the legal powers, you have to have the workforce.
“I’m afraid that will mean further welfare reforms and examining how apprenticeship schemes works.
“It cannot happen quickly, which is why we need to look at transition and, in my opinion, a transition within EFTA would be a very sensible option to at least look at.”