The British government stepped back Sunday (9 October) from a plan to make employers list their foreign workers after an outcry from business groups and opposition politicians who said any proposal to “name and shame” employers would be divisive and discriminatory.
“Let me absolutely confirm that is not going to happen, we are not going to be asking companies to list or name or publish or identify their foreign workers,” Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told BBC radio, saying the proposal had been “misinterpreted”.
Any data collected from companies would be used only to get a better picture of the extent to which different parts of the economy relied on foreign workers, he said.
A ‘repugnant’ and ‘insanely bureaucratic’ idea
The idea of making employers publish a record of how many non-British citizens they hire was floated at the annual conference of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative party, which closed on Wednesday.
Interior minister Amber Rudd said on Tuesday she would consider whether it should be harder for British companies to employ workers from outside the European Union under a new drive to cut immigration.
The government has said the June 23 vote to leave the European Union was a clear signal from British voters that immigration is too high.
Prime Minister Theresa May vowed last week to restore sovereignty and increase controls over migration, leading to a growing perception that Britain is on course for a “hard” Brexit where restricting immigration take priority over retaining access to Europe’s single market.
But the idea was swiftly and widely condemned as divisive and discriminatory, and the British Chambers of Commerce warned against making a global workforce a “badge of shame”.
A top adviser to former Prime Minister David Cameron said the move would kill Britain’s reputation as an open, enterprising economy.
“It’s not just that the scheme is obviously divisive and repugnant; it’s insanely bureaucratic,” Steve Hilton said in the Sunday Times.
Education Secretary Justine Greening later said the proposal was about “informing policy so that we understand which areas and parts of the country there are skills shortages”.
“This is not data that will be published. There will be absolutely no naming and shaming,” she told ITV television.
Pro-European MPs mobilise against May
The EU referendum campaign was dominated by the issue of immigration and May has said that imposing controls on new arrivals will be a priority in negotiations over Brexit.
But EU leaders have also made clear that this will not be possible if Britain wants continued access to the European single market – which British businesses say is vital.
Lawmakers concerned about May’s strategy have begun mobilising in a bid to force her to give parliament a vote on her opening position before formal exit talks begin with Brussels early next year.
The Conservatives only have a slim majority in the House of Commons, and some pro-European MPs in the party are reportedly in talks with former Labour leader Ed Miliband over an alliance that could defeat the government.
“The PM must get parliamentary consent for her Brexit negotiating position. No referendum mandate for hard Brexit nor a Commons majority,” Miliband said in a Twitter message.
Investor confidence slump
Adding to Theresa May’s woes, Britain’s economy now appears to be losing steam.
Two major business surveys, published today (10 October) showed a marked slowdown in the services sector and boardrooms beset by doubt about the future following the country’s vote to leave the EU.
While the UK economy has fared better than most economists expected since June’s Brexit vote – largely thanks to upbeat consumers – Monday’s surveys will heighten concerns about its longer-term prospects.
Key measures of business investment and turnover confidence hit four-year lows in the third quarter, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said in its Quarterly Economic Survey of 7,000 businesses – the largest of its kind.
Separately, chief financial officers (CFOs) in major British firms reported only a partial rebound in business morale after a post-Brexit vote nosedive, accountants Deloitte reported.
Investors have become increasingly concerned that Britain will lose many of the preferential trading terms it has with the EU – a so-called “hard Brexit” – pushing sterling to a fresh 31-year low against the dollar last week.
The Confederation of British Industry and other groups called on Saturday for the government to rule out the “really worst” trade options, to unblock investment held up by fears that the government will prioritise other goals in Brexit talks.