» Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Asked about today’s immigration figures, the PMS replied that on asylum, we had seen a fall in the number of asylum applications including dependents in the first quarter of this year, compared to the last quarter of 2007. On a calendar year basis, applications in 2007 were at their lowest level since 1993, while across Europe, applications had risen by 10 per cent.

Asked whether the Prime Minister thought it was a good thing that fewer Eastern Europeans were registering for work in Britain, the PMS said that we did not have a quota on overall immigration. These were decisions that got taken by individuals and by individual companies. Migrant workers did make a positive contribution to the UK’s economy but we did not have a view year-on-year as to what exactly the right number was. These were decisions for the people concerned and for the companies concerned.

Asked what the Prime Minister thought was keeping people away from registering for work in the UK, the PMS repeated that these were all matters for individuals to decide. What we were clear about was that people who did come here to work should make a contribution.

42 days

Asked if there was any discussion over 42 days at Cabinet, the PMS reiterated that there was a discussion about future parliamentary business and its timetable, so it was only in that context that 42 days came up in passing. There was no substantive discussion of where we were on the issue.

Agency workers

Asked whether the Prime Minister would agree that a weakened Government had been forced to back down in the face of the unions, the PMS said that the Prime Minister would think that that was complete rubbish. This was an agreement that was reached between the unions and the CBI. It was necessary to have the agreement of both the unions and the CBI in order to ensure that we were not subject to the EU Directive on agency workers; current proposals were for a qualifying period of six weeks rather than 12 weeks, which was the solution that we had managed to broker between the trade unions and the CBI.

So this was a good deal for Britain, which was why the CBI were a signatory to it. It was a fair deal for the large number of workers who would benefit from this and it was on this basis that we would now negotiate with our partners in Europe. Asked if this was something the Government would have done in any case with the European legislation hanging over it, the PMS replied that the Government thought that this struck the right balance between fairness and flexibility.

The EU proposal in the Government’s view would have put our flexible labour market at risk and that was why we were pleased we had been able to negotiate the agreement domestically. Asked if this was more than damage limitation, the PMS said that it was a good deal for the reason that the Prime Minister himself had said last week in the draft Queen’s Speech debate, where he had talked about the unfairness of the plight of millions of agency workers. So this was an area the Government did want to take action on, but we had to do it in a way that did not put jobs at risk and did not put our flexible labour market at risk.

Asked if this could be undone by Europe, the PMS replied that in order to secure a carve-out from the EU Directive, there needed to be agreement between the main employment group and the main union group in order to enable a national solution. We would now have to negotiate this in Europe and push for this in Europe, but obviously in the discussions between the TUC, the CBI and the Government, we had been mindful of the European reaction. So, we would anticipate that we should be able to get agreement for this.

Asked whether Europe could block the bill, the PMS said the first thing that needed to happen, was that we needed to reach agreement between the unions and the employers. We now needed to formally negotiate and get agreement in Europe on the terms of our national agreement, so that we could get a carve-out from the directive. There had been informal discussions with the Commission and the Presidency in recent days and weeks as people would expect. Asked if the Government anticipated any difficulty in securing agreement from other European leaders, the PMS advised people to wait and see. We were confident in our position and we would make the case for a British solution very forcefully.

original source.

Briefing took place at 16:45 | Search for related news

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