Business groups and professional organisations have reacted with alarm after the migration advisory committee, an independent expert body that advises government, said that lower-skilled workers should not get work permits to come to the UK after Brexit and that higher-skilled workers from the EU should not get preferential treatment compared to higher-skilled workers form outside the EU. This is probably what many people who voted leave in 2016 wanted, but the prospect of having to manage under the MAC rules, without free movement, has worried employers reliant on blue-collar workers and those reliant on professionals . Big business and small businesses are equally unhappy. In some respects the MAC recommendations are academic because it acknowledges that the government may want to negotiate preferential access for EU workers as part of the Brexit deal. (It does not formally recommend this, but it implies it would be sensible, saying preferential access would be “something of value to offer”.) But it has also been strongly criticised by Yvette Cooper, the Labour chair of the Commons home affairs committee, for not setting out the costs and benefits of such an offer. Alan Travis, the Guardian’s former home affairs editor, sums it up.
The committee has quashed claims that EU migration has had a significant, negative impact on wages, services and house prices. It explores the impact of EU migration in considerable detail and overall its verdict is that the impact has been more modest than supporters or opponents claim. It acknowledges some advantages and some disadvantages, and summarises them in a chart. Opposition to EU immigration was one of the factors that led to the UK voting leave in 2016. But Prof Alan Manning,the committee chair, said that the fall in the value of sterling after the Brexit vote almost certainly did more to make people poor than EU immigration did.