The British government has ordered a year-long study, due to report months ahead of Brexit, into the contribution of EU citizens to the UK economy. Pro-EU "Remainers" asked why it hadn't been done earlier.
British Home Secretary Amber Rudd on Thursday announced the launch of a study of the "costs and benefits" of EU immigration, to be completed by September 2018 - just over six months before Britain is set to leave the bloc.
Rudd said she had asked the government's Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to give the government "the most accurate picture possible of the extent to which the UK economy uses EU labor."
The study will consider the regional distribution of EU migration, including which industries are most reliant on it. It will also look at the role of temporary and seasonal workers in British economy.
"We will ensure we continue to attract those who benefit us economically, socially and culturally," Rudd wrote in Britain's Financial Times newspaper. "At the same time, our new immigration system will continue to give us control of the volume of people coming here," she said.
Some 3 million EU citizens living in the UK, working in a range of industries and public services, will be asked to apply for settled status to remain in the UK post-Brexit.
Immigration bill planned
The Home Secretary, Britain's interior minister, added that she wanted to reassure businesses and EU migrants "that we will ensure there is no 'cliff edge' once we leave the bloc."
Rudd made the announcement on the same day her Cabinet colleague, Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis, said that the UK would be implementing a new immigration system by spring 2019.
Under the terms of Article 50, Britain leaves the EU at the end of March that year. Lewis said an immigration bill would be published in 2018, although it was unclear if that would be after the MAC reported its findings.
Question of timing
News of the study was welcomed by the Confederation of British Industry, but opposition politicians questioned why the study had not been carried out earlier.
"The government needs to explain why this study wasn't commissioned a year ago, directly after the referendum," said lawmaker Ed Davey, of the pro-EU Liberal Democrat party.
The UK's longest-serving member of the European Parliament, Scottish Labour's David Martin, also lambasted the timing.
One anti-Brexit Twitter account bemoaned the fact that the announcement on the end of free movement had been made on the same day.
Some also floated the idea that the study might be used to backtrack on Brexit.
British voters decided by 52 percent to 48 percent in favor of Brexit in June last year, a result that saw Prime Minister David Cameron stand down to be replaced by Theresa May. Her position - advocating a relatively "hard Brexit"with no compromise on freedom of movement - was somewhat damaged after she called a snap general election in which she lost her majority.
rc/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)