A senior Conservative MP has urged his party to change its policy on immigration, arguing that economic migration is a feature of a successful trading nation in the 21st century.
John Bercow, former shadow minister for work and pensions, said the plan to limit the number of immigrants coming into the UK would damage the economy. He described the policy as misguided.
“Labour market flexibility is vital to a successful economy. Demand and supply can fluctuate, often sharply and suddenly,” Bercow said. “Any government limit would be based on a piece of arbitrary guesswork.”
But Bercow’s views, contained in a Social Market Foundation report published this week, are not backed by many of his party colleagues, research shows.
A Mori survey of 29 conservative MPs, released by Skills for Business during last week’s Conservative party conference, revealed that fewer than 20% support economic migration as a means to reduce the UK’s skills shortages.
This contrasts with the views of MPs in the other two main political parties – most of whom believe that economic migration should be encouraged.
Professor Mike Campbell, director of research at Skills for Business, said: “The fact that Tories are so against economic migration is a startling revelation.
“Skills gaps and shortages have been identified in research as the root of the UK’s falling productivity levels. Migrant workers introduce new skills, and it is important for all MPs to appreciate the benefits of overseas talent.”
Shadow attorney general Dominic Grieve insisted that a cap on immigration would ensure a supply of both high- and low-skilled workers into the UK.
“If employers are talking about individuals with low skills filling the labour pool at the bottom, the new EU accession states have many people wanting to come to the UK,” he said.
“For individuals with high-level skills who are indispensable, there [would be] work permits aplenty.
“Nursing is a classic quota area. There is a nursing skills shortage that can’t be met from the EU. We are going to make a work quota sufficient to fill those slots from South Africa, the Philippines, or anywhere else.”