Brexit and Immigration: The Looming Labour Market Crisis

By Erica Consterdine

With Brexit little more than a year away, one of the most pressing issues remains unresolved – immigration. Policymakers are grappling with how to satisfy both public and business demands for restrictive and expansive approaches to immigration respectively. This article considers the factors that have shaped the structural dependence of EU labour, with a focus on three low skill sectors that will be severely affected by the termination of free movement.

 

With Brexit little more than a year away, one of the most pressing issues and the issue that arguably drove the British public to vote for Leave, remains unresolved – immigration. Whilst the British public has long been in favour of reducing immigration, the high level of public concern has been more recent, gravitating from a marginal concern of a small minority, to what voters consider as one of the most important issues facing Britain.1 At the same time, numerous sectors rely on EU citizens at both the high and especially the low end of the skills spectrum to fill labour market demands. This leaves the British political establishment grappling with how to satisfy both public and business demands for restrictive and expansive approaches to immigration respectively.

Whilst the British public has long been in favour of reducing immigration, the high level of public concern has been more recent, gravitating from a marginal concern of a small minority, to what voters consider as one of the most important issues facing Britain.

Yet the structural dependence on immigrant labour is a product of the UK’s own making. Britain’s liberal labour market underpinned by labour market flexibility has long been heralded as a key success factor for the UK’s economy. But the liberal model of capitalism is key to understanding the dependence on migrant labour. Political decisions beyond immigration controls have created intractable path dependence that has determined the reliance on migrant labour and the dilemma policymakers now face. This article considers the factors that have shaped the structural dependence of EU labour to Britain, with a focus on three low skill sectors that will be severely affected by the termination of free movement.

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About the Author

Dr. Erica Constardine is a Research Fellow in the Sussex Centre Migration Research (SCMR) and Department of Politics (LPS). Her research focusses on immigration politics and policymaking. Her book Labour’s Immigration Policy: The Making of the Migration State was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2017. 

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6. Ibid

7. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/good-work-the-taylor-review-of-modern-working-practices

8. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/low-pay-and-progression-in-the-labour-market

9. https://fullfact.org/immigration/immigration-and-nhs-staff/

10. House of Commons, 2018, NHS staff from overseas: statistics. Number 7738. House of Commons Library.

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13. https://www.ft.com/content/2ce78f36-ed2e-11e5-888e-2eadd5fbc4a4

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15. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41545184

16.https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/earningsandworkinghours/articles/contractsthatdonotguaranteeaminimumnumberofhours/mar2017

17. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/government-response-to-the-taylor-review-of-modern-working-practices

18. Grimwood, G. G. and T. Mcguiness (2017) Migrant Workers in Agriculture, House of Commons Library Briefing Paper Number 7987

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23. Migration Advisory Committee [MAC] (2013). Migrant Seasonal Workers. London: MAC.

24. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/to-be-less-dependent-on-immigration-britain-must-change-its-model-of-capitalism/