To much merriment, Tim Martin, chair of Wetherspoon and campaigner for a hard Brexit, now wants to make it easier for workers from the European Union to work in his ubiquitous pub chain of some 925 establishments. “If only there was some way of bringing this about” and “Tim Martin is going to be very annoyed with Tim Martin when he finds out” go the typically sardonic remarks on Twitter. Very droll, but at least a tad unfair.
During the 2016 referendum, Martin actually did express the view that he thought EU labour should still be able to move more or less freely to the UK, and doesn’t seem to have had immigration as his principal motivation in seeing the UK leave the EU; but of course exiting the single market made the end of free movement of workers inevitable. So it has come to pass, and the loss of such labour is complicating the economic recovery from Covid, with the impact of the end of the furlough scheme yet to be felt. Certainly there will be a period of adjustment; and businesses such as Wetherspoon may face higher labour costs in future, which may mean lower profitability and/or higher prices. We shall see.
Martin’s appeal, though, does serve to highlight two difficulties with the new post-Brexit points-based immigration system recently approved by Parliament. The first is that the general plot of the immigration policy is to attract the “best and the brightest”, skilled and professional workers, and people who will be earning at least around the average UK salary, and often much more. In fact the list of occupations eligible for a mainstream UK work visa is currently surprisingly broad – everything from medical radiographers to senior care workers to ballet dancers to vets to archaeologists. There seems little or no impediment to anyone from anywhere in the world, suitably qualified, to apply to come to the UK and work as a nurse, as any type of engineer or as any kind of “artist”, given certain salary expectations. All are classified as “shortage” occupations. There are also special routes for those, for example, nominated by a transnational company or bank, and those named by the likes of the Royal Society, the British Academy and UK Research and Innovation.