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The Guardian view on a new immigration policy: make it more than tabloid fodder | Editorial

Boris Johnson saw immigration as the driver of Brexit, and has produced a policy that taps into questions about the nature of work

The government’s proposed immigration reforms represent perhaps the biggest change to British life since the Maastricht treaty almost three decades ago gave Europeans the freedom to live and work in this country. It is to be regretted deeply that free movement of people, a high-minded ideal that was intended to make the European Union more popular, was weaponised to make membership so unpopular that the British public voted to leave the bloc. In its place, Boris Johnson proposes new routes for high-skilled migrants to enter Britain while closing the door on large-scale unskilled immigration.

For Mr Johnson, having decided immigration was the driver of the Brexit vote, there is no trade-off between controlling borders and trading with Europe. From next year businesses can no longer recruit from outside the UK for unskilled workers and will only offer jobs to those with an A-level or above and who are to be paid more than £25,600 annually. There will be a level playing field for immigrants from the EU and the rest of the world. For certain privileged categories – the plans cite foreign nurses – there will be exceptions. The government says overall numbers of migrants will fall. Ministers might be right, but it’s not certain. If the economy suffers – the sudden loss of EU workers may lead to widespread labour shortages – then we may see ministers U-turn and relax the rules further to let numbers rise.

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