UK regions should issue their own work permits after Brexit

The UK should be able to offer region-specific work permits after we leave the EU, says Merryn Somerset Webb.


UK regions should be allowed to recruit skilled migrants
(Image credit: 2014 Getty Images)

Should UK regions be able to offer region-specific work permits if free movement from the EU goes after Brexit?

This is a really interesting question particularly for areas in the UK where the population is ageing faster than elsewhere (Scotland for example) or for those that just think they need a constant supply of cheap labour to keep the show on the road (London, where EU nationals make up 25% of the workforce, for example).

"Yes" is also a perfectly good answer. In the Times today, Mark Littlewood of the Ibnsitute of Economic Affairs suggests that "devolved authorities should be able to issue their own work permits." Get one for London and it would come with an L on it. Get one for Scotland and it would come with an S on it. You'd then be entitled to live and work in those regions regardless of your nationality.

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There's precedent for this in Australia and in Quebec, as Michael Glackin points out in the Scottish Sunday Times, and the Centre for Economics and Business Research points out in a new report.

In Australia, regional governments can directly recruit workers on a points system and in Quebec there is a devolved policy that allows the region to recruit skilled migrants in any sector. There is more on this here.

Overall it seems like a perfectly reasonable way of dealing with a lot of the things Scotland and London are worried about around Brexit. It also works in the generally successful economies of Canada and Australia. So it is well worth Theresa May thinking about properly.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.