Skip to main content
In a new report released today, Britain’s immigration offer to EuropeBritish Future sets out a proposal for a new, preferential system for EU immigration to the UK. Such a system, it argues, could secure UK public support for immigration in a managed system which is fair to migrants and host communities; yet remains politically deliverable in Westminster and for the EU and its member states too.  According to the report many think immigration presents an impossible conundrum for the Brexit negotiations.  But could we find a system that helps rebuild trust while continuing to welcome European migration to Britain and, crucially, gives UK negotiators a positive offer to make to the EU as it seeks the best possible trade deal?

The British Future proposal offers preferential European access to the UK labour market as part of a UK deal on trade with the EU. It retains freedom of movement for EU workers above a set skills or salary level: UK attitudes research shows that 88% of the public does not want to reduce the migration of skilled workers that our economy needs.  They would, however, like greater control of low- and semi-skilled immigration, which would be subject to quotas, set annually by Parliament, after consultation with employers and local communities. Importantly, the first opportunity to fill those low-skilled migrant quotas would go to Britain’s preferential trade partners – and the first offer of such a preferential trade and migration deal should be made to the EU.

It is essential that migrant workers are treated fairly and offered routes to settlement and citizenship and we make clear that this is not a guest worker system. We believe this is a constructive offer that is capable of securing support from within the European Union. What’s more, it could help to rebuild public trust in our immigration system here in the UK.  A preferential system would bring unskilled migration under UK control, while still ensuring that employers can recruit the staff they need to keep our economy growing, and our country remains open to the immigration that we want and need.



The public does not believe that the UK will meet its net migration target, even after leaving the EU, according to a new report published by independent thinktank British Future.

The report, What next after Brexit? Immigration and integration in post-referendum Britain, is released as new ONS immigration statistics are published, likely to show that the Government remains no nearer to its manifesto commitment to reduce net migration to ‘tens of thousands’.

It finds that only around a third of people (37%) think we are likely to meet the net migration target in the next five years, even after Brexit, according to ICM polling. More think we are not likely (44%). Of those who take a view (ie excluding those who say ‘Don’t Know’) 54% think it is unlikely, 46% likely.

The report says it would be unwise to predict what levels of immigration are best for Britain until the details of the Brexit deal are clear. But Brexit could offer “an opportunity to get immigration policy right” and the report calls for a comprehensive immigration review, once the shape of Brexit is known. This should involve the public through a “national conversation on immigration”, modelled on the consultation launched last month by the Canadian government. New research shows that such a review would reveal UK public attitudes to immigration that are more moderate and nuanced than most might think:

  • Only 12% of people would like to see a reduction in the numbers of highly skilled workers migrating to Britain; nearly four times as many (46%) would like to see more of it, with 42% saying that it should stay the same. Among people who voted Leave in the referendum these numbers remain broadly the same: 45% would like to see an increase, 40% say that the numbers should stay as they are and just 15% would like to see them reduced.
  • Only a fifth of people (22%) would like the number of international students coming to study at Britain’s universities to be reduced, less than the 24% who would be happy for them to increase. The majority (54%, including 50% of Leave voters) would rather the numbers stayed the same. Students made up over a quarter of immigration flows to the UK last year (1).
  • Most people (52%) would be happy for the number of people joining immediate family in the UK to remain the same. 13% think it should be increased while 35% would prefer it reduced.
  • People are less positive about low-skilled workers moving to the UK, however: while four in ten (38%) would be happy for numbers to stay the same (31%) or increase (7%), six in ten (62%) would prefer the numbers to be reduced.

The report calls for increased investment in a system that works.  It recommends improved funding for the Home Office to handle borders and immigration while coping with a higher workload as a result of Brexit. It also calls for the Government to honour a Conservative manifesto commitment for a fund to manage the local impacts of migration, particularly in areas of rapid population increase, focusing on housing, school places and pressures on NHS services.

The Comprehensive Immigration Review, the authors argue, must be undertaken at the highest level of politics, considering top-level issues and not just micro-policy. It should examine how migration can help provide the economy with the skills that it needs, as well as hearing the case for reductions in other areas. It also needs to consider family migration and public support for increasing the number of international students.


With more than 3 million EU migrants currently living in the UK, the Government faces an immense administrative exercise in securing their residence rights, according to a new report published today by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.

The analysis – Here Today, Gone Tomorrow? The Status of EU Citizens Already Living in the UK – looks at the existing process that EU citizens can use to apply for permanent residence, which gives an indication of some of the issues the Government may face in any new registration scheme post-Brexit.

The report finds that while the Government has signalled that it ‘expects’ to protect the long-term status of EU migrants already living here if the UK decides to end free movement, the process of doing this may be complex.

If all EEA citizens already living in the UK in early 2016 applied for permanent residence at once, this would represent the equivalent of around 140 years’ worth of work at recent rates of processing for this type of application.

If existing rules for registering EU citizens as permanent residents are used as the model for a post-Brexit registration process, a substantial minority of EU citizens could find themselves ineligible despite having lived in the country for several years.

Immigration lawyers report that there is particular confusion around the current permanent residence rules for students and self-sufficient people such as retirees, who may not know that they are expected to have comprehensive sickness insurance while in the UK.

As Brexit negotiations are still at an early stage, the Government has not yet laid out what any registration process for EU citizens would look like and who would qualify. It is possible that this process will be similar to the current permanent residence application, but it is also possible that a different and potentially simpler procedure will be introduced.

Read the full report