In amongst last week’s tumultuous political events, Prime Minister Theresa May provided a concise summary of exactly why the stakes for negotiating the UK’s withdrawal from the EU after 40 years are so high.
“It touches almost every area of our national life: our whole economy and virtually every job; the livelihoods of our fellow citizens; our integrity as a United Kingdom of four nations; our safety and security,” she said.
The truth of what the Prime Minister said is borne out by concerns about what Britain’s post-Brexit immigration system will look like. Mrs May has understandably talked up plans to end free movement after Brexit and subject EU nationals to the same immigration requirements as the rest of the world.
The issue of controlling immigration is one area where her controversial Brexit withdrawal agreement does appear to deliver on what many voters hoped would come from departing the EU.
But such a policy carries a considerable sting. The Federation of Small Businesses has said one in five of its members currently rely on staff from the EU, while the CBI has warned there must not be a “false choice between high and low-skilled workers” as it risks denying companies the vital staff they need. Such warnings must be heeded as immigration laws prepare for a seismic shift.
The Prime Minister may also come to regret describing the new system as a way of stopping EU workers from “jumping the queue”. The contribution of millions of EU nationals currently working in public services and private companies goes far beyond their vital economic contribution. They are people who have built lives, started families, become friends and neighbours and are in other words, “fellow citizens”. That must not be forgotten as the nation heads towards far-reaching changes.