On Sunday, a prominent Tory Brexiter urged ministers to reopen the UK’s borders to tens of thousands of young workers from EU nations. He believes that this action will address the severe post-Brexit labour shortages that are causing an increase in inflation.

Former Tory environment secretary George Eustice made an extraordinary admission regarding the failures of immigration policy since the UK’s departure from the EU. He stated that the government should initiate immediate bilateral negotiations with EU nations. The purpose of these negotiations would be to provide young Europeans under the age of 35 with the right to two-year work visas in the UK.

Criticism of Immigration Policy Failures Post-Brexit

Eustice, who served as the secretary of state for the environment, food, and rural affairs under Boris Johnson, proposed that the agreements should be reciprocal. This means that young UK citizens under the age of 35 would also have the opportunity to reside and work for a period of two years in the EU member states involved in the negotiations. He emphasized that this reciprocal arrangement would contribute to a necessary “post-Brexit reconciliation” with our European neighbours.

In an exclusive interview with the Observer, Eustice, who will be stepping down from parliament in the upcoming election, expressed strong criticism towards the Home Office. He stated that the immigration rules based on skills implemented by the Home Office were causing numerous failures for the country across multiple aspects.

Imbalance in Skills-Based Immigration System and Impact on Labour Shortages

Regarding the list of professions permitted to work in the UK, he remarked, “The deficiencies in our current so-called skills-based immigration system are becoming increasingly evident as we have a policy that does not align with the requirements of our economy.”

“We are granting entry to individuals considered skilled, such as lawyers, insolvency practitioners, museum officers, and even disc jockeys, despite there being no shortages whatsoever in those fields. However, we are restricting the entry of individuals who wish to work in sectors like the food industry, despite the existence of severe labour shortages in those sectors. This imbalance is contributing to inflation.”

“That is the primary issue at hand. My suggestion is to initiate bilateral negotiations with EU member states, beginning with countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, and the Baltic states. Eventually, we should expand these negotiations to encompass the entire EU, with the aim of establishing a mutually beneficial youth-mobility visa scheme,” he proposed.

George Eustice

When questioned about whether labour shortages and the subsequent inflationary pressures were a consequence of Brexit, Eustice responded, “We must refrain from perceiving everything solely through the lens of Brexit. This issue is not caused by Brexit itself, but rather due to the inadequacies of our immigration policy following Brexit.”

His remarks reveal the profound divisions within the Tory party concerning immigration and also highlight the growing determination among fervent Brexit supporters to reshape Tory policy. Their aim is to mitigate the adverse effects that leaving the EU has had on the economy and labour market.

He held Theresa May, during her tenure as prime minister, responsible for not implementing bilateral visa schemes with EU countries following post-Brexit. He emphasized that he had consistently advocated for such schemes.

“The notion of not having any temporary visa schemes did not originate from the Vote Leave campaign. It was primarily introduced by Theresa May. It represented a remainer’s perspective of what Brexit entailed. However, that interpretation does not align with the true essence of Brexit. The intention was to have controlled immigration, not to completely shut the doors and prevent anyone from entering.”


Suella Braverman’s View on Addressing Labour Shortages within the UK

In May, the home secretary, Suella Braverman, expressed her viewpoint at a National Conservatism conference, stating that there was “no valid justification as to why we cannot adequately train HGV drivers, butchers, or fruit pickers within our own country to address any labour shortages.”

Eustice criticized the Home Office, noting its misunderstanding of the situation regarding seasonal workers, as they do not contribute to immigration figures due to their limited stay of six months. He stressed the importance of the Tory party differentiating between discussions on legal and illegal immigration, urging them to refrain from employing “profoundly unhelpful” rhetoric.

Eustice, who hails from a farming family in the West Country, further stated that the policies implemented by the Home Office were causing an increase in immigration numbers rather than effectively managing them. He explained that individuals granted entry under the skills-based system were instructed to settle permanently, leading them to bring their partners and children along with them.

Eustice’s Proposal: Two-Year Visa Scheme for Individual Workers

In contrast, his proposed visa scheme would solely apply to individuals and have a duration of only two years. Following the expiration of the visa, individuals would be required to return to their home countries.

During the UK’s membership in the EU, all UK citizens enjoyed the freedom to travel and work within the EU under the rules of freedom of movement. However, Brexit abolished those automatic rights.

Presently, UK citizens who seek employment in the EU encounter a variety of bureaucratic requirements and varying regulations. Some countries require visas, while others necessitate specific job offers, adding to the complexity and diversity of the situation.

Eustice, who initially embarked on his political career as a member of UKIP, outlined his proposal to government advisers, intending to introduce a scheme that would facilitate the arrival of tens of thousands of young EU workers to address the existing job vacancies in the country.

The labour shortages have predominantly impacted sectors such as food, restaurants, pubs, and hospitality, resulting in increased wages and prices in retail stores. This further exacerbates the cost of living crisis.

Eustice clarified that he was not advocating for a restoration of EU freedom of movement for the UK. Instead, he sought a mutually beneficial solution that would benefit both Britain and its neighbouring countries. He emphasized the significance of revitalizing the post-Brexit friendship with our European neighbours as part of this reconciliation process.

Rejected Proposal: Elimination of Specialized Visa Scheme for Care Workers

Last week, indicating mounting internal strife within the Tory party concerning immigration, a newly formed group of Conservative MPs urged the government to eliminate a specialized visa scheme for care workers. This proposal formed part of their plan to reduce immigration by approximately 400,000 individuals before the next general election.

The suggestions, supported by 20 MPs, including allies of Braverman, were decisively rejected by Downing Street.

The majority of EU governments would enthusiastically embrace increased cross-Channel mobility for young individuals, spanning from school groups and university students to interns and those embarking on their first jobs.

In January, during her visit to London, Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, voiced her desire to see Germany’s new relationship with the UK reflect “practical EU accomplishments.” Baerbock emphasized the importance of looking towards the future post-Brexit, highlighting the need for the two countries to establish new connections in areas such as youth exchange programs, worker mobility, university students, and research. The aim is to foster collaboration and interaction in all spheres where people come together.

Concerns over Travel Difficulties and Potential Societal Drift

While Paris has shown some reluctance, particularly regarding potential bilateral agreements, France’s consul general in London, Samer Melki, expressed concern about the evolving relationship between the two nations. Melki stated last week that non-tourist travel has become considerably more challenging, particularly for young people. He highlighted the difficulties faced in coming to the UK for purposes such as work experience placements, au pair opportunities, or short-term casual employment.

If young individuals from France and the UK are unable to interact and learn about each other, including through school visits that have become considerably more challenging, there is a risk of the two societies drifting apart and heading in separate directions.

France’s Ministry of Europe announced last month that discussions on “bilateral mobility matters” had recommenced following Sunak’s visit to Paris. However, they cautioned that it is crucial to uphold a balance and ensure the proper implementation of the terms outlined in the Brexit TCA (trade and cooperation agreement).

“We currently have successful youth mobility schemes in place with 10 countries, including Australia and New Zealand. We are also open to establishing such schemes with our international partners, including EU member states.”

“We maintain close collaboration with the Migration Advisory Committee to ensure that our points-based system is effective for the UK and serves the best interests of the economy. This includes regular reviews of the shortage occupation list to ensure its alignment with the present labor market conditions.”

A Spokesperson from the Home Office