The Scottish Government has stepped up calls for control over immigration to be devolved north of the Border amid widespread criticism of the post-Brexit proposals outlined at Westminster.
Scotland’s Brexit Secretary Mike Russell said the long-held policy’s “time has come” and would provide a “short-term solution” prior to independence.
The proposed curbs on EU workers coming to the UK after 2021, when freedom of movement ends, will mean workers from the EU must have some form of permission, and EU visitors will need to take part in an Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme. The number of EU nationals coming to work in the UK will fall by an estimated 85 per cent, seen as particularly acute for Scotland which needs migration to maintain the workforce and keep the population growing.
The Scottish Government has already published “catastrophic” estimates about the impact of a 50 per cent drop, Mr Russell said.
“An 85 per cent drop would be impossible to imagine” he told Holyrood’s Europe committee.
“It would throw the economy into complete chaos.”
CBI Scotland has already hit out at the prospect of “draconian” blocks on overseas workers, while the Scottish Tourism Alliance, Institute of Directors, National Farmer’s Union, Federation of Small Businesses and Universities Scotland have also hit out at the plans.
Mr Russell described the scheme as “wrong morally.”
“Many of us take this as a personal affront as to how the world will see us - we’re not like this,” he said.
The Scottish Government is making representations to Westminster on this with an “alternative in mind.”
He said: “Clearly independence is the best alternative, but we have long argued for a devolved approach to migration.
“I remember having a conversation with [former UK Brexit Secretary] David Davis about this when he was in office and pointing out the great advantage of devolving migration because you can then set whatever targets you wanted in the rest of the UK.
“But we could actually meet the needs of what we have by ensuring that we had the best approach to it.
“It is an approach that exists in the Canadian provinces, it’s an approach that exists in parts of Australia. It is not difficult to manage.
“I think in all these circumstances it’s time has come and I think these bodies are moving towards it.” The CBI has shifted it’s objection from one of principal to “the timing” of such a transfer of power, Mr Russell said.
“That is a short-term solution prior to independence which is putting in place a devolved system of migration.”
Meanwhile, the UK government announced yesterday that the post-Brexit settlement scheme for EU nationals will enter its first public testing phase next month, So far the online application platform has been restricted to people in specific professions. From 21 January, it will be opened up to EU nationals who are living in the UK and who have a passport, as well as their non-EU family members with biometric residence cards.
While the expansion will substantially widen the pool of people able to apply to confirm their post-Brexit immigration status, the Home Office said that the scheme would still be in a testing phase ahead of the full launch in March.