Business leaders on Friday urged the new Brexit secretary to put migration “on the table” in trade talks with the EU, encouraging him to give favourable treatment to European migrants. Dominic Raab, who replaced David Davis as Brexit secretary this month, was given the message at a meeting with 40 business leaders at Chevening, a government grace-and-favour house in Kent. They argued that the UK should offer a good deal to EU citizens hoping to work in Britain in an attempt to secure a positive trade deal, including access for British services companies to the single market. “It is imperative that migration is placed on the table in future trade negotiations,” the CBI employers federation said in a briefing to attendees at the Chevening meeting, the third such dialogue between business and Brexit ministers. “Business wants a stable immigration system that commands public confidence. An open and controlled migration system will be the most effective replacement for EU free movement rules.” The CBI said the government should reject a plan by Sajid Javid, the new home secretary, to make EU citizens apply for so-called Tier 2 visas alongside skilled applicants from non-European countries. “This would have a dramatic impact on businesses and their ability to access vital people and skills from the EU,” the note said. It also pointed out that “more and more companies” were bringing forward plans for greater automation to cover for potential skills shortages after Brexit — a move that could help to raise Britain’s poor productivity performance. Mr Raab was pleased that business gave a generally positive response to the Brexit white paper agreed at Chequers earlier this month, which proposed keeping Britain close to the customs union and the EU rule book for goods and agricultural products.
But business leaders told the new minister it was vital that there was progress towards a final Brexit deal at the EU’s October council. “Delay to the point of December, leaving only three months, is unacceptable,” the CBI warned. Mr Raab, a Eurosceptic former lawyer, urged businesses to share his optimism about Britain’s post-Brexit future, claiming that the government’s white paper would “deliver for you, your customers and your employees”. The guest list at Chevening included the CBI’s Carolyn Fairbairn, Adam Marshall of the British Chambers of Commerce, Stephen Phipson of engineering employers group the EEF, Stephen Martin, of the Institute of Directors, and Mike Cherry, of the Federation of Small Businesses. Companies represented included Lloyd’s of London, Linklaters, Barclays, Accenture, Santander, Shell UK, BMW Mini, National Grid, Centrica and Morrisons. The four-hour meeting included break out sessions on issues including customs and advanced manufacturing, data and digital and financial services. Ms Fairbairn said business input into the negotiations was vital and her members had found Chevening positive and constructive. “Firms want a good Brexit and, while not perfect, believe the White Paper to be something they can work with. Business is keen to work with the government to help fill in the gaps on services. However, the most immediate priority this summer is the Irish backstop – and a solution will only be found through flexibility on both sides.”