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Written Statement - Brexit and Fair Movement of People

Carwyn Jones, First Minister 

In January this year I published, jointly with Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Government’s White Paper ‘Securing Wales’ Future’ which outlined our agenda and priorities for Wales as the UK prepares to leave the European Union (EU). I said then that this marked the beginning of a dialogue, not its end, and signalled my intention to publish a series of further policy documents to extend the debate both here in Wales and the United Kingdom (UK). In June I published the first of these - “Brexit and Devolution”.

Today I am publishing the next in our series of those policy documents, Brexit and Fair Movement of People.

The way in which the UK government deals with future migration to and from the EU is critical to securing the right outcome in the UK’s negotiations on leaving the EU, and it needs to be an outcome that is right for all parts of the UK. This latest policy document outlines evidence-based proposals for how migration between the EU and the UK should be managed after the UK leaves the EU. It builds on the approach that was outlined initially in ‘Securing Wales’ Future’, and is underpinned by expert analysis, provided by Professor Jonathan Portes of Kings College London, and Dr Lydia Hayes of Cardiff University.

We propose a fair migration policy, in which migration is linked more closely to work and in which exploitation of workers is tackled properly. The flexible, but managed approach to migration which we outline would enable people from Europe to continue to come to Wales to work if they have a prior job offer, or to seek work if they have a real prospect of finding work quickly.

We also set out the ways in which exploitation of workers can be tackled through stronger UK government action to enforce legislation, and a range of Welsh Government actions, framed by our Fair Work agenda, to support workers and drive stronger employer compliance and good practice, working with trade union partners. Worker exploitation does not just affect migrants and these actions will safeguard and benefit all workers in Wales.

This policy approach would allow Wales and the UK to continue to benefit from inward migration, whilst addressing the concerns about migration that featured prominently in the debate leading up to the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

Our approach would be fair to the EU citizens who have already made Wales their home and who contribute greatly to our economy and society, but whom the UK government has treated like pawns in a game.

It would be fair to those who will come to Wales in the future, who we will need to work in our key economic sectors, public services and academia, and who we want to come and study in our world class universities.

It would be fair to people across Wales who feel vulnerable to what is seen as competition for work, benefits and public services.

The UK government has responsibility for migration policy, but we believe that their dogmatic focus on an arbitrary net migration target is not in Wales’ best interests, and risks damage to Wales’ economy and public services. Their approach to migration is without foundation in evidence, as is only too clearly demonstrated in their insistence on counting overseas students within net migration figures, with which we completely disagree. Their policy decision was based on what we now know was a wildly inaccurate estimate of students overstaying their visas, compared to the recently published exit check data for overseas students.

In light of the evidence and analysis that we put forward in our paper, it would be disappointing and damaging if the UK government chooses to introduce a migration system for EU citizens based on quantitative restrictions. In this worst-case scenario, however, we believe that Wales’ needs would be better served by a full and fair Wales-specific migration quota for which we could determine criteria for future EU migration to Wales. This is clearly not our preferred approach, but it would present less risk of damage to our economy and public services than a UK-wide sector-based approach set by the UK government.

In our document we demonstrate, through evidence and expert analysis, that there is a different and realistic way forward which meets Wales’ needs, supports our ambitions for full and unfettered access to the Single Market, and which would work for the UK as a whole. We believe that our proposals form part of a pragmatic mainstream, with some similarities to approaches and controls related to migration which are seen in other European countries. Our document therefore provides a constructive basis for the UK’s negotiations with the EU over our future relationship.

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government will be making an Oral Statement on the first day of the new Assembly term, which will enable the ideas outlined in our paper to be explored and discussed more fully.