Fearful of Brexit impact, council leader plea to Prime Minister to ‘think again and think of cities like Cambridge’

Cllr Lewis Herbert, Leader of Cambridge City Council, said he had the deepest concerns about the Bre

Cllr Lewis Herbert, Leader of Cambridge City Council, said he had the deepest concerns about the Brexit negotiations" - Credit: Archant

There are fears for the impact of a “no-deal” Brexit on Cambridge’s economy and community as it is revealed Cambridge is more reliant on EU migrants than any other city in the UK.

The claims are made in a report published on Wednesday (August 22) by the think tank Centre for Cities, ahead of the release of the Government’s Brexit no deal plans. The report examines the economic contribution of EU migrants in English and Welsh cities.

According to the report, cities in the Greater South East – including some of the UK’s most productive places like Cambridge – are particularly reliant on EU migrants, who account for around 1 in 10 workers in cities such as Cambridge, London and Oxford.

According to the data, Cambridge is more reliant on EU workers than any other city in the UK. It tops the chart, with the Centre for Cities saying 12 per cent of the city’s work force was made up of EU migrants in 2011. The average is only four per cent.

In a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, Cllr Lewis Herbert, Leader of Cambridge City Council, said he had the “deepest concerns about the Brexit negotiations”, saying the expectation was that the outcome would do “serious damage” to Cambridge’s economy and community.

The letter, sent on behalf of the city council following a motion that was passed unanimously by councillors from all parties, said: “Cambridge is, as you know, an international city that is totally reliant on working with, researching with and innovating with people and organisations across the world, including all European countries. It benefits hugely from thousands of our settled residents from other EU countries.

“The fear of our council and our Cambridge community is that the Government is putting the future of our city and its economy at risk by its continued failure to achieve anything close to the right outcome. This is already creating an uncertain operating environment for Cambridge’s world-leading businesses trying to make strategic decisions about their future direction.”

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The letter implores the Prime Minister to “think again and think of cities like Cambridge”.

“It is not too late to change course,” it says. “Otherwise, this will be the single most damaging action by a UK Government in your, or our, lifetimes.”

Lib Dem councillor Rod Cantrill said the “knowledge economy” is very important to Cambridge, meaning the city relied on being able to recruit the best people from all around the world.

“It is a very important issue,” said Cllr Cantrill. “It’s not just jobs in academia. There are so many other jobs which are vital for the city’s economy.”

Cllr Cantrill said he thought a “chaotic” Brexit could leave families and individuals unsure of their rights.

Paul Browne, chairman of campaign group Cambridge Stays, said the city’s high dependence on EU migrants was not a surprise. He said Cambridge was already feeling the effect as staff left positions, or were put off coming by negative perceptions.

“Cambridge is a very international city,” said Mr Browne. “For a city like Cambridge, being part of the EU is very important in terms of science, business and academia. It is an important part of making us attractive as a place to come.”

Commenting on the report’s findings, Andrew Carter, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities, said: “The UK’s future outside the EU is unclear, especially in a ‘no deal scenario’. But whatever the outcome of Brexit negotiations, the Government can offer certainty by ensuring cities can continue to attract the high-skilled and low-skilled EU migrants they need to thrive.

“In the short-term, it should continue to allow EU migrants to come and work in UK cities for at least the next two years, even if there is no Brexit deal in place. This will be crucial in helping cities avoid a cliff-edge in terms of recruiting the workers they need.

“In the long-term, we need an immigration system which is more flexible than current rules on migration from outside the European Economic Area. That means scrapping the cap on high-skilled workers, and offering more cities continued scope to attract low-skilled workers. Not only will that be vital for the prosperity of places across the country, it will also be critical for the national economy in the years to come.”

The House of Lords EU Committee will hold an extraordinary evidence session with Brexit Minister Dominic Raab MP on August 29.