May distances herself from plan to charge British employers an extra €1,150 per year for EU workers amid warnings Ireland would not be exempt
The idea would be damaging the British Irish Chamber of Commerce has warned
British Prime Minister Theresa May has poured cold water over a suggestion that firms may be facing a charge of €1,154 (£1,000) per year for every EU skilled worker they employ.
The charge is incoming for non-EU workers in April and Robert Goodwill, the immigration minister, told a Brexit sub-committee on Wednesday that the charge may be extended after Brexit.
"We have made it clear we do wish to control the numbers coming in. At the same time let's not forget that the Government is committed to training our own people.
"I don't think many people are aware that in April of this year we are bringing for non-EU workers coming into the UK an immigration skills charge,” he said.
"So if one wishes to bring in an Indian computer programmer on a four year contract on top of the existing visa charge there will be a fee of £1,000 per year. So for a four year contract that employer will need to pay £4,000.
"That's something that currently applies to non-EU. That may be something that's been suggested to us that could apply to EU. "
The remarks proved contentious in the UK and Ms May appeared to distance herself from the suggestion.
"He seems to have been misinterpreted and those comments taken out of context," she told reporters.
"What he said was there are a number of things that some people may suggest could be the way forward.
"At no point did he say it is on the agenda. It is not on the government's agenda."
However when contacted by Independent.ie a representative for Mr Goodwill declined to say if Irish workers would be included in any such move, as is the most likely scenario.
He also appeared to stand over his remarks despite the Prime Minister’s intervention.
“As the Minister said, there are a whole range of options we could consider to control immigration once we leave the EU,” a spokeswoman said.
“The people of this country spoke very clearly in the referendum and we are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration again.
“We will deliver an immigration system that reduces net migration to sustainable levels and truly works for this country as we leave the EU.”
Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor said it would be improper for her to speculate on the proposal.
“The global battle for the very highest skilled workers remains fierce,” her office said in a statement.
“Any positive differentiation for Ireland for the highest skilled workers is a positive. However the amounts being suggested, of £4,000 over a four year period, is unlikely to make a radical difference.”
John McGrane, Director General of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce told Independent.ie the remarks showed the difficult job Theresa May has in satisfying the ‘Leave’ cohort as the business community in the UK remains anxious ahead of Brexit.
“What it shows is the chaotic state of the leave cohort and Theresa May has a near impossible task of trying to please all of those people,” he added.
“From an Irish point of view we have no basis to think that we’d gain any special favour in that regard… it’s been well [covered] in recent weeks that we expect no special deal with Britain,” he said.
The move would be damaging he predicted, and could throw up questions for Irish people already working in the UK.
“What’s bad for any migrant workers in the EU is bad for everyone. Where do you draw the line, when does the clock start? There are hundreds of thousands of workers in the UK, where does it begin and end?
“It’s ridiculous and Theresa May was right to dismiss it,” he added.
The chamber’s members are awaiting clarification as to what type of Brexit Ms May would be seeking and until then remained on tenterhooks he said.
“We have to continue to highlight the particular damage that can be done to Ireland if the UK ends up with a really bad deal,” he added.
Additional reporting by Reuters