Nicola Sturgeon warned the “dreadful” policies could see families broken up, while restrictions on people coming into the UK would be economically “devastating” for Scotland, which has relied on immigrants to boost its population.
She hit out after an 82-page government paper, obtained by The Guardian, suggested that new immigration arrangements would be introduced immediately after a Brexit transition period lasting at least two years.
Departure from the EU will mean ‘’the end of rights-based, unconditional free movement’’, with the Government adopting powers to take ‘’a more selective approach’’ over which migrants will be allowed to work and settle in the UK.
It is understood that the document - marked ‘’Official Sensitive’’ - is a draft version of a forthcoming White Paper which has been circulated among senior officials and politicians but has not been agreed by ministers.
‘’The Government will take a view on the economic and social needs of the country as regards EU migration, rather than leaving this decision entirely to those wishing to come here and employers,’’ it states.
This could involve requiring EU nationals to seek permission before taking up a job, making employers recruit locally first or restrict access to lower-skilled occupations which are not experiencing staffing shortages, the document suggests.
Among proposals floated to cut numbers of lower-skilled migrants are a restriction to two years’ residency, compared with work permits for a longer period of three to five years for those in high-skilled occupations.
Human rights campaigners and industry leaders from organisations including the National Farmers’ Union, the Food and Drink Federation and the British Hospitality Association have already acted with alarm.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The proposals in this paper are morally bankrupt, they seem to ignore the fact we’re dealing with human beings. These proposals would lead to family break up in some cases.
“But secondly they would be devastating for the Scottish economy. We need to be able to attract the best and the brightest from around the world to Scotland, we’ve got a demographic challenge we must meet if we are to continue to grow our economy.
“So these proposals are dreadful and I think they are just a sign of the fact that this UK Government has completely lost the plot and completely lost sight of what they should be doing to secure a brighter future for the country.”
The row erupted as Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary Lesley Laird said the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) - which brings together the UK’s devolved administrations - must meet in the next three weeks to discuss Brexit.
Ms Laird urged Scottish Secretary David Mundell to allow her to take part in the talks “to ensure that Scottish Labour have input into this process”.
The Scottish Government has been demanding ministers from across the UK get together for a JMC meeting, with no such talks having been held since February 2017.
Ms Laird told the Scottish Secretary: “It is imperative that you act now to establish a credible way in which the JMC can operate effectively and ensure the voices of the devolved nations are heard.”