The government’s failure to set out a post-Brexit immigration policy has been sharply criticised by MPs.
The Commons Home Affairs Committee has used a new report to warn those involved in the Brexit debate against exploiting or escalating tensions over migration in the run-up to EU withdrawal.
Immigration policy now risks “being caught up in a rushed and highly politicised debate” in the approach to a Parliamentary vote on any withdrawal agreement with the EU, according to the committee.
MPs said the government’s continued delay in setting out immigration proposals represented a “missed opportunity” to consult the public and build consensus.
The report said that net migration targets should not be an objective of EU migration policy, and that a close economic partnership with the bloc would be much harder without a reciprocal arrangement on immigration with Brussels.
Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper said: “Immigration was one of the central issues during the referendum and it divided the country, but sadly there has been no attempt by the government to hold any kind of sensible debate on it or build any kind of consensus on immigration since.
“That is deeply disappointing and it has left a vacuum and it’s really important that people don’t exploit that again.
“The misinformation and tensions over immigration during the referendum campaign were deeply damaging and divisive.
“It is essential that does not happen again, and those who exploited concerns over immigration during the referendum need to be more honest and more responsible when it is debated in the run-up to the final deal.
“We found there were a much wider range of possible precedents and options for immigration reform than people often talk about, including options that could be combined with participation in the single market, that we believe the government should be exploring further now.”
The committee said the government needed a fresh approach.
It stated: “The government has not considered the range of possible immigration measures and safeguards that could allow the UK to participate in the single market while putting in place new immigration controls.
“Should the government change its red lines, there are a series of options which could provide a basis for greater control on migration within the single market.”
The report stated that options for future migration agreements include an “emergency brake” provision.
The committee said: “Within the EU and during transition there are further measures that could be taken, in particular on registration, enforcement, skills and labour market reform. “As witnesses noted, the UK has opted not to take up measures which are possible.”
MPs said that an EU agreement with Ukraine allows for partial integration in the single market without requiring the free movement of people.
The committee also called on ministers to introduce a seasonal agricultural workers scheme as soon as possible.