John Allan, CBI President, will today (Thursday) address industry leaders in Cambridge following the Government’s latest statement on how immigration could work in the UK post-Brexit.
Speaking before hundreds of business men and women at the CBI’s East of England Annual Dinner, Mr Allan will highlight how important immigration is and will continue to be for the region’s – and the UK’s – economy.
His audience at Ely Cathedral will hear how European migration, of all skill levels, has helped the region become one of the UK’s fastest growing. Specifically, Mr Allan will praise the contribution of migrant workers in agri-business and encourage people to ‘change the conversation on immigration’.
Introducing his speech, John Allan, CBI President, will say:
“The East of England is home to more than circuit-boards and science…it’s also home to the black soil of the Fens.
“If England has an agricultural heart it too is here in the East.
“The Fens account for half our country’s Grade 1 farmland, growing more than a third of our vegetables, a quarter of our potatoes and nearly 40% of our flowers.
“It’s not just the farms but the whole supply chain – from processing plants to logistics firms carrying produce to market.
“In agri-business, migration matters. Today, EU workers make up 60% of employees on our seasonal poultry farms. They constitute 75% of our fruit and veg pickers and 85% of our skilled abbatoir vets.
“No other sector has a higher migrant workforce.”
On the need to dispel myths around migration, John will say:
“Last week’s migration report was the most detailed review into economic effects of migration ever conducted.
“And it dispelled the greatest myth of all – that migration is bad for our country.
“It found no evidence that European migrants have reduced jobs for UK workers.”
“There was little, if any impact on wages. And that European migrants pay more in tax than they take out. These are important findings.”
On the myth that the UK won’t need low skilled workers from abroad post-Brexit, John will say:
“The report recognises that 99% of seasonal agricultural workers are from the EU. Without them, many businesses would close.
“While in some areas technology could replace workers – and firms are investing in robot apple pickers to mechanical celery harvesters – in many areas it does not yet exist. For crops such as spring onions the process is too complex.
“So, if our farms and everyone who depends on them are to continue to thrive, we need access to workers abroad.”
On why migration should be on the table in trade negotiations, John will say:
“We know that freedom of movement as we understand today must end. But we also know putting migration on the table would be a powerful in striking better trade deals.
“And that’s based on evidence. When the Prime Minister went to India to seek a free trade agreement the response was clear – make it easier for Indians to work in the UK.
“Countries value access for their citizens to work in this country. Putting migration on the table could help us get a better deal with the EU – and other countries too.”
Concluding his speech, John will appeal to change the national conversation on migration. He will say:
“Migrants have brought skill, knowledge, care in our hospitals, teaching in our schools.
“So as the Government sets a new migration policy, I also think we need to seek a new national mindset about immigration.
“It won’t do to have a policy that serves only the economic fact. It must also win popular support, and, from there, change minds on migration and help people see what migrants have done for our country, are doing and will do – if we let them.
“The Government can make a good start by scrapping the net migration target. The repeated failure to hit it has itself undermined public confidence.
“Secondly, the government has indicated its preference for a single, global immigration system. If true, this must be significantly less complex than current non-EU Visa system.
“And finally, whatever the shape of the new system, businesses will need time to adjust.”