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Senior Tory Says "Right-Thinking" MPs Know More Overseas Workers Are Needed In UK

Former Cabinet minister Stephen Crabb (Alamy)

3 min read

Politicians need to speak with more "honesty and openness" about the importance of foreign workers to the economy, according to former Cabinet minister Stephen Crabb, who said that Britain "needs more workers from overseas and will carry on doing that".

Conservative MP Crabb, who chairs the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, lamented on Monday evening that it is "incredibly hard" in the current political climate to make a "positive and progressive" case for letting workers from abroad join the UK workforce.

The ex-secretary of state argued that some ministers have wrongly presented encouraging inactive Brits to rejoin the workforce and allowing overseas workers to take up jobs in staff-short industries as a "binary choice", when in reality the country needs to do both.

Crabb was speaking at an event hosted by centre-right think tank Bright Blue on Monday night, and the senior Tory's remarks come amid an ongoing debate over how the government should address ongoing gaps in the workforce, driven primarily by Covid and Brexit.

Getting inactive Brits, largely comprised of the elderly and long-term sick, back into work is a major part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's economic agenda. But he has been warned that doing so will not be enough to fill key gaps in the workforce, and that he should look at letting more workers from abroad come to the UK to fill vacancies in the industries most acutely affected by staff shortages, like hospitality, construction and agriculture.

The Prime Minister is also under pressure from the right of the Conservative party to significantly bring down net migration after the Office of National Statistics (ONS) said last month that it hit a record high of 606,000 in the year leading up to December 2022.

But according to Crabb, the Tory MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, "most right-thinking, smart politicans know that Britain needs more workers from overseas and will carry on doing that".

"At the same time, we need to do a better job at tackling economic inactivity and helping people live fulfilled lives. These things are not a binary choice or one versus the other. Yet our politics, the political culture of our time, demands that politicians set this up as a binary choice," he said.

"You've heard it from ministers at different occasions – and I've said it myself in the House of Commons, I am guilty of it – that we want to maximise the potential workforce in the UK rather than relying on more labour from overseas. The truth is that we need both."

Crabb, who served as the secretary of state for work and pensions in 2016, said that since the 2008 financial crisis the "fallacy" that there is a "finite stock of jobs" in the UK which are at threat from foreign workers has been a "steady drumbeat" in British politics, but that this theory has been "disproven time and time again".

The former Cabinet minister continued: "It is incredibly hard to articulate a positive and progressive platform when it comes to thinking about the importance of, and how we integrate better, foreign-born workers into the UK economy. 

"We're now on the tramlines to a general election and you shouldn't expect to see a huge amount of difference between the rhetoric of my party and Labour on this. It will very much be safety first.

"But really, we are screaming out for a time when politicians speak with much more honesty and openness about these issues and what needs to get done."

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