Strains in the Coalition government’s immigration policy are becoming apparent because of a planned European Union “free trade agreement” with India. If struck the deal will give skilled Indian IT workers, engineers and managers easy entry into Europe in exchange for European businesses gaining access to the massive domestic market of the world’s largest democracy.
The agreement which is scheduled to be signed in December 2010 has brought to the fore the conflicting view of some of the most senior figures in the Coalition. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, and William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, take the view that the EU-India agreement is imperative as a matter of economic necessity.
However, David Cameron, the Prime Minister, and Theresa May, the Home Secretary want to stay true to their party’s electoral pledge that they will bring down net immigration to the “tens of thousands”, which is currently at 176,000 entrants a year.
The truth is that Europe and indeed the UK require cheap labour for their economies and equally European business has a lot to gain from developing overseas markets.
The features of the deal will be that India will open its markets to European goods by lowering tariffs but that this change will only be allowed if skilled Indian professionals working in IT, management, and engineering are allowed to work in the EU on the strength of an employment contract alone. The arrangement will also allow EU business to bid for public procurement contracts.
Member States will report to the European Commission by the end of October upon the negotiations which were held with the Indians over the summer.
Looking forward to the deal The British Chambers of Commerce, through its director general David Frost, said that:
“The UK must maintain its position as a member state that is an advocate of free trade, and we must surrender no ground to protectionism … [w]e cannot allow any proposal to improve the UK-India trade relationship to be delayed because of disagreements within Europe over the movement of highly skilled migrants.”
It is predicted that an EU-India deal will inject growth into Europe’s economy by £3.9 billion a year.
Senior Conservatives take the view that the agreement makes a mockery of their party’s cap on immigration.