He said the UK was not about to “suddenly shut the door” on low-skilled EU migrants because UK nationals were not likely to take up the low-paid jobs in care, farming or hotels and restaurants for some time. Mr Davis’ comments, made during a visit to Estonia, will raise questions over Theresa May’s pledge to use Brexit to take back control of immigration and reduce net migration to the tens of thousands.
The Prime Minister has consistently said the UK wants to continue to attract talent, but this has focused on the highly skilled workers in industries such as finance and technology – not care workers, fruit pickers and barristas. However, the Brexit Secretary warned: “In the hospitality sector, hotels and restaurants, in the social care sector, working in agriculture, it will take time – it will be years and years before we get British citizens to do those jobs.
“Don’t expect just because we’re changing who makes the decision on the policy, the door will suddenly shut: it won’t. We’re a successful economy, largely or partly at least because we have clever people, talented people come to Britain. Even on the wider area, where we’ve got less well-paid people who have come to live and work in Britain, that will take time.”
The remarks will cause concern among the fervent Brexiteers, who want the UK to “take back control” of its borders and want to deliver on campaign pledges to bring down the numbers of low-skilled migrant workers.The Government has said it remains committed to bringing net migration below 100,000 – a promise initially made by David Cameron but retained by Mrs May.
Mrs May has made it clear that transitional arrangements could need to be imposed on certain parts of the economy, especially where there are skill shortages, after Britain formally withdraws from the EU.