Britain is considering introducing an annual 1,000-pound ($1,200) “immigration skills charge” after Brexit on every skilled worker from an EU member state recruited by a British employer, a junior minister said on Wednesday.
The suggestion drew immediate condemnation from a prominent employers’ group, the opposition Liberal Democrats and the European parliament’s point man on Brexit.
Immigration minister Robert Goodwill told a parliamentary committee that such a levy was due to come into force in April for non-EU workers, and that the government was considering extending it to skilled EU workers.
“That’s something that currently applies to non-EU. That may be something that’s been suggested to us that could apply to EU,” he said.
Britons voted by 52 to 48 percent in a referendum last June to leave the European Union after a campaign in which the Brexit camp argued for tighter controls on immigration than are allowed under the EU’s rules on the free movement of people.
The Institute of Directors (IoD), an employers’ organisation, said the proposed levy would hit businesses dependent on skills from abroad.
“This tax will only damage jobs growth at a time when many businesses are living with uncertainty,” said Seamus Nevin, head of employment and skills at the IoD.
“They simply cannot endure the double whammy of more restriction and then, if they do succeed in finding the right candidate, the prospect of an extra charge.”
Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, now the European parliament’s representative in the Brexit process, called the proposal “shocking”.
“Imagine, just for a moment, what the UK headlines would be, if the EU proposed this for UK nationals?” he wrote on Twitter.
Responding to questions from reporters about the idea, Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokeswoman said it was just one of a number of options that could be considered.
“The point is that this government is focused on delivering a system that reduces immigration,” she said.
The Liberal Democrats, a pro-EU party that was in coalition with the ruling Conservatives between 2010 and 2015, called Goodwill’s suggestion “idiotic”.
“The Conservatives used to represent business interests. They have now sacrificed them on the altar of populisms,” said Don Foster, the party’s business policy chief.
In October, interior minister Amber Rudd raised the idea of making companies publish the number of foreign workers they employed, but that proposal was dropped after a public outcry.