MUNICH: France’s President Emmanuel Macron (left) listens to the chairman of the Munich Security Conference Wolfgang Ischinger during the 56th Munich Security Conference (MSC). Macron said France was growing ‘impatient’ with the lack of German response to its push to strengthen the European Union after Brexit. – AFP

LONDON: Britain will “turn off the tap” of foreign, low-skilled labor and require all skilled workers wishing to come to the country to have a job offer and meet salary and language requirements as it sets post-Brexit rules from next year. Britain formally left the European Union at the end of January but a transition period is in effect until Dec 31, during which time little changes. At the moment, European Union citizens are able to move freely between the member states, prompting some Britons to vote for Brexit in the 2016 referendum in a bid to bring down the number of people arriving in the country.

“Our new immigration system will turn off the tap of cheap, foreign low-skilled labor,” interior minister Priti Patel wrote in The Sun on Sunday newspaper. “From next year, all skilled workers will need to earn enough points to work in the UK. They will need to speak English, have a firm job offer, and meet the salary requirements.” Patel said “overall numbers” would fall under the plan.

Some opposition politicians have argued that restrictions on immigration could harm public services such as the National Health Service which in certain areas relies on EU citizens who work as nurses and doctors. The government said it would award additional points to those working in sectors where there is a skills shortage. London and Brussels will spend this year negotiating the terms of a post-Brexit deal which will come into force on Jan 1 with the battlelines already drawn over how much Britain will diverge from EU rules and regulations.

Bloody Brexit talks battle
Meanwhile, France yesterday warned Britain to expect a bitter, bloody battle in Brexit trade talks with the EU, saying the two sides would “rip each other apart”. Negotiations for a deal on future EU-UK relations are not due to start until next month, but London and Brussels have already clashed over rules for British financial firms’ access to the EU after Brexit.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian said it would be tough to achieve Britain’s aim of agreeing a free trade deal by the end of the year, with the two sides far apart on a range of issues. “I think that on trade issues and the mechanism for future relations, which we are going to start on, we are going to rip each other apart,” Le Drian said at the Munich Security Conference.

“But that is part of negotiations, everyone will defend their own interests.” Britain formally left the EU two weeks ago but still trades like a member under a transition period ticking down to the end of this year. The remaining 27 EU states are currently drawing up their mandate for the talks on the future relationship, with France in particular pushing for a strong stance, notably on the vexed question of fishing.

France and several other countries want to be able to keep fishing in British waters, while London wants full autonomy and limited access for European fishermen. “Let’s hope the talks are done as quickly as possible, but there are a lot of issues and some difficult points to deal with,” said Le Drian, who is from the important French fishing region of Brittany. The bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said the EU’s top priorities are fishing, security and maintaining fair trading conditions for European companies.

In a sign of the likely bruising exchanges ahead, Barnier this week told London not to kid itself about EU access for its prized financial services sector. Barnier firmly rejected a British suggestion that City of London companies could be given broad, permanent access to EU markets without conditions. Before the January 31 exit from the EU, Britain said it wanted an ambitious and comprehensive accord with the European bloc. But since then, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has dialed back, signaling it is willing to accept trade friction in return for sovereignty. – Agencies