Clash over devolved policy

CBI boss rejects Sturgeon’s call for immigration powers

Carolyn Fairbairn

Carolyn Fairbairn: now is not the right time to devolve immigration


Nicola Sturgeon’s call for immigration to be devolved to Scotland is not a view shared by the business community, according to the leader of the CBI.

In a message to a business dinner in Glasgow, CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn said companies reject Ms Sturgeon’s call for a separate immigration regime north of the Border, warning of “doubled up systems and extra red tape.”

She shared the First Minister’s concerns of “catastrophic risks” of a no deal Brexit but will warn Ms Sturgeon – also at the dinner – that businesses she has spoken to say “not right now” on devolving immigration.

Speaking at her third CBI Scotland Annual Dinner, Ms Fairbairn said she will emphasise the importance of building a UK-wide post-Brexit immigration system that combines public confidence with ability to attract the people and skills companies need.

Ms Sturgeon has argued that Scotland needs power over immigration to attract more people north of the border where there is a rapidly ageing population and potential “brain drain”.

Ms Fairbairn said: “Some have asked – do we need a devolved solution for Scotland? It’s a fair question.

“But the businesses I’ve spoken to say `not right now’. Let’s get it right for the whole UK. The better the outcome we get, the less need for variation across the UK. The less companies need worry about doubled up systems and extra red tape.”

On the broader issue of the Brexit talks, she spoke in support of the Chequers Proposal which was still alive.

If you believed what you read in the papers, you’d assume it is dead as a dodo.  I don’t think you should believe everything you read in the papers.

I’ll be the first to say – it’s not perfect. But it does have the makings of a workable compromise and has many of the ingredients that we know firms want and we have campaigned for.

We know how much Scotland values smooth trade and open borders. We’ve made that very clear, and Chequers does propose a free trade area for goods with a common rulebook.

That’s real progress and will be welcomed by firms across the EU as well.

She said there was positive news from the talks which had barely received a mention in the media.

“But for some people, and some businesses, it will mean everything. It was the announcement that EU citizens will be granted the right to stay in the UK…whatever the outcome of negotiations.”

However, she spelled out the dangers ahead of the “catastrophic risks of a no-deal exit”.

She said “Because that’s what it would be for Scotland. A catastrophe.

Delays to just-in-time delivery meaning that Scotland’s food exports would not reach markets in peak condition. Barriers to talent stifling Scotland’s professional services firms and Scotland’s status as fintech power put at risk by new regulations on data.

“No-deal is just not an option. Not for the UK, not for Scotland, and not for the EU. And there’s a very short window to achieve a deal.

So we will be continuing to make the case for a sensible and pragmatic way forward – here and across the Channel.”


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