UK employers should look to hire British workers as a “first port of call” if they are seeking lower-skilled labour, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick has said.
Mr Jenrick said employers' organisation the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is wrong to say the UK needs more migrant workers.
Tony Danker, director-general of the CBI, will say on Monday at a conference that the UK should consider “economic migration in areas where we aren't going to get the people and skills at home any time soon”.
But Mr Jenrick said employers should always consider British workers first.
“We want to bring down net migration. It's something that is, as you say, very important to the British people and we're on the side of the British people,” he told TalkTV.
“If British employers are looking for lower-skilled labour, then the first port of call should be the domestic workforce.
“It should be training up, improving the skills of British people and getting them into the workforce — because there are still five million British people who are not economically active, including about half a million who left the workforce around the time of the pandemic.
“Those are the sorts of people that we as a government are most concerned about. If they want to, or can return to the workforce, we want to give them the skills to get back into it and British employers should be helping us to do that.”
Mr Jenrick said it “could not be further from the truth” that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's government is considering putting the UK on the road to a Swiss-style relationship with the European Union.
“We have a settled position on our relationship with the European Union, that's the deal that was struck in 2019 and 2020 — and that's the one that we intend to stick to,” he said.
“That sets out the fundamental position that we don't want to see a return to free movement, we don't want to have the jurisdiction of European judges in the UK, and we don't want to be paying any money to the European Union.
“Of course, there will be things on which we can improve our relationship — trade, security, migration are all key topics, and the Prime Minister wants to have the most productive relationship possible with our European friends and neighbours.
“But there's no question whatsoever of us reopening the fundamental tenets of that deal.”