Does Brexit mean Brexit? The 2019 Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democratic manifestos
28 November 2019
What are the key headline policies on immigration?
The Conservative party’s General Election campaign has undeniably pinned itself on one key aim: to Get Brexit Done. After Brexit, the Conservatives promise to ‘take back control’ of the UK’s borders by imposing stricter immigration requirements and prioritising the development of key sectors, including the technology industry and the NHS.
In stark contrast, the Liberal Democrats pledge to stop Brexit and to invest the £50 billion ‘Remain Bonus’ in improving public services and tackling inequality. The manifesto promises the transformation of the UK’s immigration system from one ‘in desperate need of reform’ to a ‘compassionate and effective’ regime.
As something of a middle ground, Labour has pledged to give the UK a final say on Brexit by allowing the public to choose to either remain or leave the EU under its future deal. Like the Liberal Democrats, Labour intends to end the hostile environment in favour of an immigration system built on human rights.
Intentions aside, the question remains: what would each regime offer in practice?
What protection would each party provide for EEA and Swiss nationals in the UK?
While the Liberal Democrats promise to stop Brexit and preserve UK-EU freedom of movement, under the Conservatives the EU Settlement Scheme would continue to allow EEA and Swiss nationals resident in the UK before Brexit day to secure their existing rights to live and work here. The Conservatives have pledged not to extend the implementation period, which would either put considerable pressure on the Home Office to have the post-Brexit immigration system ready by 1 January 2021 or necessitate interim immigration arrangements for EEA/Swiss nationals and their family members.
Labour has meanwhile promised that any deal with the EU would seek to uphold the benefits of free movement as far as possible, both in social and economic terms, for UK, EEA and Swiss nationals alike.
What does a post-Brexit immigration landscape look like under each party?
The Conservative government has made no secret of its intention to implement an Australian-inspired Points-Based system for all foreign nationals after Brexit. This approach would see points attributed to migrants with ‘desirable’ skills, such as a good grasp of English, good character and good academic qualifications.
The Liberal Democrats’ remain-centric agenda, on the other hand, hopes to avoid a post-Brexit immigration landscape altogether. They instead pledge to reform the current immigration system and abolish the Conservatives’ hostile environment in favour of a merit-based approach. They also promise to establish a ‘Training Up Britain’ programme to enhance migrant skills, and undertake to implement stricter data protection controls through limiting Home Office access to applicants’ personal information.
Labour pledges to implement a ‘humane’ immigration system which scraps the 2014 Immigration Act and focuses on filling positions in shortage occupations. It would also aim to end the deportation of family members of those entitled to be in the UK and get rid of the minimum income requirement.
All parties demonstrate an intention to ensure that any future immigration system would prevent any repetition of the horrors suffered by the Windrush generation.
What controls on entry are proposed?
The Conservatives have promised to use post-Brexit freedoms to enforce stricter criminality standards on migrants. They also intend to ‘cut’ the number of foreign nationals currently serving in British prisons and to increase penalties as a disincentive.
The Liberal Democrats would instead focus on investment in officer training methods and technology to prevent illegal entry, assist asylum seekers and combat the trafficking of people and illegal goods.
Who would be prioritised?
The Conservatives’ vision of an Australian points-based system would inherently prioritise highly-skilled migrants, making good on their promise to attract the ‘best and brightest’ talent from around the world to the UK labour market. This intention would be bolstered by an emphasis on two specific routes: NHS workers and leaders in the science and technology fields.
The NHS visa would provide for a direct route for qualified doctors, nurses and allied health professionals with job offers from the NHS to come to the UK. This visa route would be subject to stringent training and English language requirements, but would allow for fast-track entry and reduced visa fees for new NHS workers and their families.
The Conservatives also promise to actively recruit leaders in science and technology fields from around the world in order to bolster the UK’s technological progress. The Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent), Start-up and Innovator visas would continue to be supported by the government.
The Liberal Democrats, however, would implement a flexible merit-based system which removed powers from the Home Office rather than focussing on any particular industry.
Both parties would see an extension of current leave granted to students after graduation from university to two years.
A Labour government would prioritise bringing in migrants with profiles that can fill the skills shortages present in public services and the wider economy.
How has each party approached asylum and refugee policies?
The Conservatives have pledged to continue to grant asylum and support to refugees fleeing persecution, with ‘the ultimate aim of helping them to return home if it is safe to do so.’
Labour claims that the current Conservative government has fallen short of international standards in its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. In its aim to raise this standard, a Labour majority would resume rescue missions in the Mediterranean, put an end to subpar refugee camps in France and establish ‘safe and legal routes’ for asylum seekers. They would also give refugees the right to work and access public services once in the UK.
On a similar vein, the Liberal Democrats’ proposed system would seek to protect the dignity of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. The manifesto points to the fact that 40% of asylum refusals are overturned on appeal in support of its commitment to provide safe and legal routes to sanctuary. More specifically, the party has pledged to give asylum seekers the right to work no more than three months after application, provide free basic English lessons and to move asylum policymaking powers away from the Home Office.
We also explore what the main parties are pledging on employment issues as part of their election manifestos. The full article can be read here.
The UK left the EU at 11pm (UK time) on 31 January 2020, and the transition period came to an end on 31 December 2020. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement reached on Christmas Eve 2020 sets out the shape of the ongoing future relationship between the UK and the EU and provides some degree of certainty for UK businesses.