Saturday 18 November 2017

UK firms 'must hire more British staff' - home secretary

British Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Photo: PA
British Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Photo: PA

Tim Ross and Charlotte Ryan

Businesses in the UK must hire more British workers, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said as she warned that companies will not be able to rely on workers from the European Union after Brexit.

The government there will push businesses including food retailers such as Pret A Manger to train and recruit more British citizens who would otherwise be unemployed, Ms Rudd said in an interview during the UK's election campaign yesterday.

The cabinet minister hinted Theresa May's Conservatives will rewrite their previous pledges on reducing migration when they publish their policy manifesto before the June 8 vote.

"I did hear that (sandwich chain) Pret A Manger had come out and said 'it's absolutely essential for us to have European workers because if we don't, we are going to have to make more of an effort to recruit in the UK'. Well, good," Ms Rudd told 'Pienaar's Politics' on BBC radio.

"We will be trying to push them as well to do more in the UK - them and all other businesses - so that we make sure we look after people who are otherwise unemployed."

The May government sees control over immigration from the EU as a red line demand for the Brexit talks, and a key priority for the 17 million people who voted to leave the bloc in last year's referendum.

Priorities: British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: REUTERS
Priorities: British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: REUTERS

Net migration stood at 273,000 in the 12 months through September, according to official figures released in February. This was down from 335,000 in the year before the Brexit referendum.

Meanwhile, Ms Rudd also accused some EU countries of wanting Britain to "fail".

In the most outspoken comments by a senior UK political leader, the home secretary claimed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker held "very hostile" briefings against Mrs May after an April 26 London dinner meeting deliberately to influence voters.

She criticised the timing of reports - that the EU wants to stop Mrs May from leading Brexit talks, and that Britain will face a €100bn exit bill - in the weeks before the June 8 vote.

The intervention may well signal a push by the Conservative government to channel perceived attacks from Europe to galvanise electoral support.

"Why would Jean-Claude Juncker and his team have done such a very hostile approach?" Ms Rudd said. "Would it not be possible to hold onto your aggression, perhaps your opening negotiating salvos, during an election period?"

Mrs May's Tories are campaigning to return to power with a bigger parliamentary majority. She's stressing her "strong and stable" personal leadership as the country faces the complex task of negotiating withdrawal from the EU. Conservative strategists worry voters won't turn out for Mrs May because she's almost 20 points ahead of her main Labour Party rival in opinion polls and triumphed in British local elections last week.

Tories think the premier's focus on the EU's role in the UK election through hostile briefings about her Brexit policies will play well by rallying voters to the national cause. However, there is a risk that these clashes could damage relations between officials in London and Brussels before Brexit talks begin. EU President Donald Tusk on Thursday appealed for calm.

The argument dates back to a report in the 'Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung' newspaper on April 30 that Mr Juncker left Mrs May's dinner shocked about her unrealistic expectations for Brexit, claiming she was living in another galaxy.

Ms Rudd said these "very unhelpful" comments showed that the EU did want to "meddle" in the UK election.

"It seems extraordinary to me that they would launch it during an election period," she said. (Bloomberg)

Irish Independent

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