BORIS Johnson’s new Cabinet has agreed to the introduction of a new Australian-style points-based system from January 1 2021, targeting the reduction of low-skill migrant workers from abroad.
However, No 10 could not say when net migration would begin to fall. Details of the new system are expected to be published next week.
At the first meeting of senior ministers following the controversial reshuffle, which saw Sajid Javid resign as Chancellor, the Prime Minister told colleagues the Government was elected to improve the NHS, tackle crime and level up opportunity across the UK through investment in infrastructure, education and training and that the new One Nation Government had a “responsibility to level up and unite the country”.
Mr Johnson engaged his colleagues in a call and response exercise asking: “How many hospitals are we going to build?” before they replied in unison: “Forty.”
“Well done,” he replied. “How many more police officers?” His colleagues said: “Twenty thousand. 20,000.” The PM declared: “That’s right. How many more nurses?” When his colleagues replied 50,000, he said: “Exactly.”
One of the Government’s first measures will be to overhaul Britain’s immigration system and seek to begin to realise the Government’s long-term promise to cut levels of net migration.
The PM’s deputy spokesman said the Cabinet, after discussion, had agreed to the implementation of a points-based system, which would be “simpler and fairer” than the current one.
He explained: “It would not discriminate between countries and would return the democratic control of immigration to the British people. The PM stressed we must demonstrate that the UK is open and welcoming from talent from across the world but the new system would end reliance on importing cheap, low-skilled labour, bringing down immigration numbers overall.”
Under existing legislation, workers from the EU and European Economic Area countries can come to the UK to live or work without a visa.
But Mr Johnson is keen to close the route for low-skilled migrants but short-term visas will be considered for occupations experiencing shortages.
It has been calculated that the new points-based system could cut the number of low-skilled EU migrants by 90,000 per year, which would represent a 50 per cent reduction in the numbers of EU citizens who come to the UK on a long-term basis.
Last month, the Government’s independent adviser on immigration, the Migration Advisory Committee, recommended the Government should lower the minimum salary threshold for skilled immigrants by more than £4,000, from £30,000 to £25,600, to help recruit teachers and skilled NHS staff.
The committee said replacing freedom of movement with a points-based immigration system after Brexit could cut economic growth and might only lead to small improvements in standards of living. It also suggested the Government’s proposed overhaul of migration rules could have “zero effect” on providing more British jobs for British workers.
Asked about the possibility of a change in the salary cap, the spokesman declined to answer and said the details of the new system would be “set out shortly”.
Questioned about how migration numbers would be cut, he said the new system would enable the Government to control the number of people coming into the UK; it would, by its very nature, “provide the Government to control who comes in and out” and would end the country’s “reliance on low-skilled workers”.
Asked if there was a target and how soon migrant numbers would fall, the spokesman simply repeated that details of the new system would be set out shortly.
Pressed on whether there was discussion on any special dispensation for Scotland – the Scottish Government wants policy on immigration to be devolved – he said he would not go into the detail of Cabinet’s “wider discussion”.
Elsewhere at Cabinet, Rishi Sunak, the new Chancellor, reminded all ministers they needed to find five per cent departmental savings so that the money could be use on other priorities.
Asked if the Government would continue to abide by its fiscal rules, the spokesman said: “We continue to have a clear fiscal framework and that gets confirmed at Budget. The Chancellor is busy getting down to work and that will continue through the weekend as preparations for the Budget continue.”
One fiscal rule, set out in the Conservative manifesto, is not borrowing for day-to-day public spending but there are suggestions that Mr Sunak might be prepared to turn on the Treasury taps to allow more money to be spent on infrastructure projects, which would boost growth but also inflation.
Pressed on if the Budget was still set for March 11, the spokesman replied: “Preparations for the Budget will continue at pace.”