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Harry and Meghan love story takes new turn: a baby boy

May 06, 2019

WINDSOR, England (AP) — The improbable love story between an American actress and a British royal took the best of all possible turns Monday with the arrival of a healthy baby boy. The as-yet-unnamed baby arrived less than a year after Prince Harry wed Meghan Markle in a spectacular televised event on the grounds of Windsor Castle that was watched the world over.

Meghan is now the Duchess of Sussex, but she still does things her own way: The couple bucked royal tradition by declining to say where the baby was born and opting not to come out to pose with the newborn just hours after the birth.

Instead, an obviously overjoyed Harry emerged to tell the world — via its waiting TV cameras — that a baby had been born. It marked a moment the nation is likely to remember as a once-troubled boy undone by the death of his mother Princess Diana in 1997 car crash seemed giddy in his embrace of fatherhood.

“This little thing is absolutely to die for,” the ginger-haired, bearded prince said. “I’m just over the moon.” The baby weighed 7 pounds, 3 ounces (3.26 kilograms) at birth and was born at 5:26 a.m. (0426 GMT; 12:26 a.m. EDT). Harry said their son was a little bit overdue and that had given the royal couple more time to contemplate names.

Harry promised that more details — such as the baby’s name — will be shared in the coming days. Harry and the palace didn’t immediately provide details on whether the baby was born at a hospital or if it was a home birth. The royal couple had earlier said they wanted to keep details private.

The infant is seventh in line to the British throne and is the eighth great-grandchild of 93-year-old Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest reigning monarch. It is a satisfying moment for the queen as the monarchy grows in popularity in part because of public affection for Harry, his older brother Prince William, and their two wives, Meghan and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.

Harry, the 34-year-old son of Prince Charles, said he was present at the birth. “It’s been the most amazing experience I could ever have possibly imagined,” he said. “How any woman does what they do is beyond comprehension.

“We’re both absolutely thrilled and so grateful for all the love and support from everybody out there. It’s been amazing, so we just wanted to share this with everybody,” he said. Word that the baby had been born was withheld while senior members of the royal family, including the queen, were told. Princess Diana’s family was also informed.

Buckingham Palace said minutes before 2 p.m. that Meghan had gone into labor (in fact the baby had already been born) and Harry emerged less than an hour later to announce the birth in person. Harry’s dramatic announcement, and his obvious pleasure, sparked cheers among royal fans and well-wishers who had gathered outside the imposing grounds of Windsor Castle hoping to hear the news.

“Cheers to the newborn baby boy! Hip hip hooray!” said 64-year-old John Loughrey, popping open a bottle of sparkling wine. He was clad in head-to-toe Union flags and royal family memorabilia to mark the occasion.

Some people in Windsor said it would provide a welcome respite from the continuing political stalemate over Brexit. Londoners Pam and Keith Jonson said the news will provide a boost to peoples’ spirits.

“You can tell by people around,” Pam Jonson said. “Lifts everybody a bit. Definitely. With all that’s been going recently. It’s nice uplift actually.” Buckingham Palace said Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, was also with her daughter and was overjoyed with the baby’s arrival.

Harry said he planned to make another announcement, probably in two days’ time, “so everyone can see the baby.” It’s expected they will pose for a family picture at that point. The arrival of a boy was something of a surprise because Britain’s legal bookmakers several weeks ago stopped accepting bets on the baby’s sex because so many people had placed bets on the baby being a girl.

Bookmakers came to the conclusion that the rumor the baby was a girl must have been based on some type of leak from a person in the know. Meghan has brought something new and different to the royal family. She is an American who enjoyed a successful career in show business before joining “the firm,” as the royals are known to many.

The child will be eligible for dual citizenship, but Harry and Meghan have not said whether they plan to apply for American status. Harry has long spoken of his desire to start a family. He had several serious relationships, but they collapsed in part because of the pressure of constant press scrutiny, leading Harry to vow to protect Meghan from intrusive reporting. He has complained publicly about a racist undertone in coverage of Meghan, who has a white father and an African-American mother.

Harry and Meghan recently moved from central London to a secluded house known as Frogmore Cottage near Windsor Castle, 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of London. The move is seen as reflecting a desire for privacy as they raise their first child.

It also separates Harry and Meghan from William and his wife Kate, who had been living in the same compound at Kensington Palace in central London with their three children — Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis — the new baby’s cousins.

Gregory Katz reported from London.

UK’s Johnson names brother and Brexiteers to House of Lords

July 31, 2020

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson named 36 new members to Parliament’s unelected House of Lords on Friday, including his brother, several prominent Brexit supporters and a Russian-born newspaper owner whose father was a KGB agent.

The list of new peers also includes Brexit-backing former lawmakers and ex-cricket star Ian Botham, a vocal proponent of leaving the European Union. Former Treasury chiefs Ken Clarke and Philip Hammond, who both opposed Brexit, were also appointed to the Lords. So was Evgeny Lebedev, owner of the Independent and Evening Standard newspapers. His father, Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev, once worked for the KGB.

Former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson is on the list, along with Johnson’s chief of staff Eddie Lister and the prime minister’s anti-Brexit brother Jo Johnson, who quit the government last year in opposition to its policies.

Most of the appointees are allied with Johnson’s governing Conservative Party, though the list also includes several former opposition Labor Party lawmakers who supported Brexit, Britain historic departure from the European Union.

A notable omission is former House of Commons Speaker John Bercow. It’s customary for ex-speakers to be appointed to the Lords, but Bercow infuriated the Conservative government by aiding lawmakers’ efforts to change the course of Brexit.

The new members will be given aristocratic titles — baron or baroness — and will join almost 800 others in the House of Lords. The chamber reviews legislation passed by the elected House of Commons, and for most of its 900-year history was composed of hereditary nobles. Nowadays members are appointed for life by the government and are a mix of former lawmakers, other notables and political donors.

There are frequent calls to reform the Lords on the grounds that the body is unwieldy, unaccountable and out of touch. The Speaker of the Lords, Norman Fowler, accused the Conservative government of reneging on a promise to trim the size of the upper house.

Scottish National Party lawmaker Pete Wishart, meanwhile, called Johnson’s appointments “the worst kind of cronyism.”

Black UK protester statue removed from pedestal in Bristol

July 16, 2020

BRISTOL, England (AP) — Officials in the English city of Bristol on Thursday removed a statue of a Black Lives Matter activist that was installed barely 24 hours earlier on a pedestal once occupied by a monument to a 17th-century slave trader.

Artist Marc Quinn created the resin and steel likeness of Jen Reid, a protester photographed standing with a raised fist on the pedestal after demonstrators pulled down the statue of merchant Edward Colston and dumped in Bristol’s harbor on June 7.

The statue of Reid was erected before dawn on Wednesday without the approval of city authorities and removed by those same authorities early Thursday, carted away in a waste-removal truck. Bristol City Council said the sculpture “will be held at our museum for the artist to collect or donate to our collection.”

Colston was a trader who made a fortune transporting enslaved Africans across the Atlantic to the Americas on Bristol-based ships. His money funded schools and charities in Bristol, 120 miles (195 kilometers) southwest of London.

The toppling of his statue was part of a worldwide reckoning with racism and slavery sparked by the death of a Black American man, George Floyd, at the hands of police in Minneapolis in May. From Confederate monuments in the United States to statues of British slave traders, memorials erected in honor of historical figures have become a global focus of protests — and removal, both authorized and unauthorized.

City authorities fished the Colston statue out of the harbor and say it will be placed in a museum, along with placards from the Black Lives Matter demonstration. Mayor Marvin Rees, who is the first Black leader of Bristol, said the decision about what replaces the statue of native son Colston must be made by the people of the city, not an artist from London.

“There were people in Bristol who were elated that Colston got pulled down.,” he said. “There were some people who were sympathetic that the Colston statue got pulled down but were dismayed by the way it happened. There were people who feel they have lost a bit of themselves in the statue being pulled down.

“None of those people are going anywhere. We all still live in the city together and we have to find a way of leading Bristol that actually shows everyone that they are respected even if they don’t get what they want.”

Bristol Council said officials would speak to Quinn about what should happen to his artwork. He has said that if it is sold, profits will be donated to educational charities chosen by Reid. The speed with which events transpired disappointed people who had heard about the new statue and wanted to see it. Activist Deasy Bamford alluded to a decades-long dispute over the presence of the Colston statue in expressing her exasperation over the new work’s quick exit.

“It took them 35 years to do nothing and 24 hours to do something,. That says something,” Bamford said. “However, I understand that they are playing a role, so hopefully that statue will go somewhere in another iconic spot where everyone will see it where there is a proper plaque which explains exactly why it was put up and it belongs to Bristol.”

Jill Lawless in London contributed to this story.

UK Treasury chief plans boost to youth jobs

July 08, 2020

LONDON (AP) — British Treasury chief Rishi Sunak on Wednesday is set to announce a 2-billion-pound ($2.5 billion) program to create jobs for young people as the government tries to revive an economy battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Announcement of the funding, which will create government-subsidized minimum wage jobs for 16- to 24-year-olds, comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans for a “New Deal” similar to the program President Franklin D. Roosevelt created to help the U.S. bounce back from the Great Depression.

Sunak’s office released details of the youth employment program before a speech to Parliament in which he will outline the government’s updated spending plans. Analysts speculate that Sunak may also announce tax cuts to boost consumer spending, buoy the housing market and ease the burden on small businesses.

“Young people bear the brunt of most economic crises, but they are at particular risk this time because they work in the sectors disproportionately hit by the pandemic,” Sunak said in excerpts of his remarks released in advance. “We also know that youth unemployment has a long-term impact on jobs and wages and we don’t want to see that happen to this generation.”

The speech comes amid concern that the pandemic and a three-month lockdown may result in a lingering slowdown in the British economy. Though Sunak has organized emergency programs that have prevented millions of job losses, fears are growing about what happens as the programs wind down and expire in October.

While the economy has shown some signs of recovery after output plunged during the lockdown, economic production is still about 15% below its pre-recession peak, according to Kallum Pickering, senior economist at Berenberg Bank in London. Gross domestic product may not return to fourth-quarter levels until early 2023, he said in a note to clients.

“But with the market panic over, the virus mostly under control and the economy recovering, the case for blunt force has lessened somewhat,” he said. “Instead, expect Sunak to announce targeted measures to lift the flagging parts of the economy and those areas that may struggle under the continued social distancing measures.”

Britain’s top civil servant steps down from powerful role

June 28, 2020

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s top civil servant and one of the most powerful people in government announced Sunday that he would step down, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepared to shake up the the country’s civil service.

Mark Sedwill said Sunday he would resign from his roles as Cabinet secretary, national security adviser and head of the Civil Service in September. He said it had been a privilege to serve, but now is the time for change because the Johnson government was shifting to a new phase.

“It was obviously right to stay on for the acute phase of the COVID-19 crisis,” Sedwill said in his resignation letter. “As you are setting out this week, the government’s focus is now shifting to domestic and global recovery and renewal.”

Johnson’s Europe adviser, David Frost, will step into the role of national security adviser. The statement from Johnson’s Downing Street office didn’t say who was stepping into the other roles. Frost will remain the chief negotiator for European Union talks and said “these will remain my top single priority until those negotiations have concluded, one way or another.”

Sedwill, a 54-year-old former diplomat, has been accused of lacking the domestic policy skills needed to respond to the crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. In recent months, reports also had suggested he had fallen afoul of Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s powerful aide, who wanted the public servant removed.

Speculation about his future was fueled when Simon Case, who was appointed permanent secretary in Johnson’s Downing Street office amid the pandemic, was chosen to lead a review into social distancing restrictions. The review led to an easing of lockdown measures in place since March 23.

Case is considered the favorite to become the next Cabinet secretary. Dubbed the ultimate “securocrat,” Sedwill was a trusted lieutenant of Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, during her time as prime minister.

Johnson gave Sedwill a new task, asking him to lead a new Group of Seven nations panel on Global Economic Security as the U.K. assumes the presidency with a mission to ensure that “the global free trading system on which our economy is based remains fair, competitive and secure.”

Johnson praised the outgoing civil servant for 30 years of “outstanding,” work. “It has been by any standards a massive contribution — but as PM I have particularly appreciated your calm and shrewd advice,” he wrote to Sedwill as he accepted his resignation.

Meet Wilfred: UK leader’s baby name announced

May 02, 2020

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson and fiancee Carrie Symonds have named their baby boy Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson in honor of their grandfathers and doctors who saved the U.K. leader’s life when he was hospitalized with COVID-19.

Symonds made the announcement on her Instagram page Saturday, posting a picture of her cradling her 3-day-old son and explaining the name choice. She praised the maternity team at University College Hospital in London and said her “heart is full.?

“Introducing Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson born on 29.04.20 at 9am.” she wrote in the post. “Wilfred after Boris’ grandfather, Lawrie after my grandfather, Nicholas after Dr Nick Price and Dr Nick Hart – the two doctors that saved Boris’ life last month.’’

The birth came just days after Johnson returned to work following his hospitalization for the coronavirus. He spent a week at London’s St. Thomas’ hospital, including three nights in intensive care. Johnson was present for the birth but back working at 10 Downing St. within hours amid the ongoing pandemic. Johnson’s office said he would take paternity leave later in the year.

Johnson, 55, and Symonds, 32, announced their engagement in February and said they expected a baby in the summer. Wilfred is the third baby born to a sitting British prime minister this century. The wives of Tony Blair and David Cameron had children during the tenures of their husbands.

UK leader Boris Johnson, fiancee announce birth of baby boy

April 29, 2020

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, announced the birth of a son on Wednesday, just two days after Johnson returned to work following hospitalization for the coronavirus.

Johnson’s office said Symonds gave birth to a “healthy baby boy” in a public hospital in London on Wednesday morning, and that both mother and infant were doing well. Johnson was present for the birth but was back at work in 10 Downing St. within hours, as his government faces a deadline of next week to amend or extend the country’s coronavirus lockdown. Johnson’s office said he would take paternity leave later in the year.

Conservative leader Johnson, 55, and Symonds, 32, announced in February that they were engaged and expecting a child together. At the time they said the baby was due in early summer. Johnson only returned to work Monday after suffering from a bout of coronavirus that left him dangerously ill. He spent a week in London’s St. Thomas’ hospital, including three nights in intensive care. When he was discharged on April 13, he thanked medical workers at the hospital for saving his life, saying his condition “could have gone either way.”

Symonds, an environmental campaigner and former Conservative Party staffer, also said she was sick for a week with COVID-19 symptoms, though she wasn’t tested for the virus. Johnson’s office would not confirm Symonds’ due date or say whether the couple’s son had been born prematurely.

There has been speculation about links between the coronavirus in pregnant women and premature births. But Andrew Shennan, professor of obstetrics at King’s College London, said “there is currently no evidence that coronavirus causes preterm labor.”

The newborn boy is Symonds’ first child. Johnson has four children with his second wife Marina Wheeler, from whom he is divorced, and has fathered at least one other child outside his marriages. Downing St. would not confirm now many other children Johnson has, saying only that he was “delighted about the birth of his baby son.”

The baby is the third born to a sitting British prime minister this century. The wives of leaders Tony Blair and David Cameron also had babies while their husbands were in office. The birth comes as the British government faces big decisions about how and when to ease the nationwide lockdown imposed March 23 to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The measures are due to be in place at least until May 7.

Britain is among the countries hardest hit by the pandemic. On Wednesday the official death toll of people with the coronavirus in the U.K. leapt to 26,097, from 21,678 a day earlier, after deaths outside hospitals — in nursing homes and other settings — were added for the first time.

Johnson’s government faces growing criticism over its slowness in getting enough protective equipment to medics and nursing home staff and its struggle to increase the number of tests being performed for the virus.

Johnson missed the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session on Wednesday after the birth. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab stood in for him. Opposition Labor Party leader Keir Starmer, who had been due to face off against Johnson in the Commons, said he hoped the birth brought the couple “incredible relief and joy.”

Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth II had sent a message to Johnson and Symonds. Congratulations also came from world leaders including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who tweeted: “My dear friend, @BorisJohnson, warmest congratulations on the birth of a sweet baby boy!”

House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle also congratulated the couple. “Such happy news amid so much uncertainty – 2020 is certainly a year they will never forget,” he said.

UK opens EU trade talks with threat to walk away

February 27, 2020

LONDON (AP) — Britain laid out its opening demands for the upcoming trade talks with the European Union on Thursday, including a blunt threat to walk away from the negotiating table if there is no progress within four months.

The two sides appear headed for a rocky first round of negotiations as they try to forge a new relationship following the U.K.’s departure from the now 27-nation bloc. Britain and the EU both say they want to reach a free trade agreement, but have starkly divergent views on how it should be overseen and what constitutes fair competition between their two economies.

The EU says Britain must agree to follow the bloc’s rules in areas ranging from state aid to environmental protections, and give European boats access to U.K. fishing waters, if the two sides are to strike a good deal.

But the U.K. is demanding the right to diverge from the bloc’s rules in order to strike new trade agreements around the world that it thinks will bolster the British economy. “In pursuit of a deal we will not trade away our sovereignty,” Michael Gove, the minister in charge of Brexit preparations, told lawmakers in the House of Commons.

“We will not be seeking to dynamically align with EU rules on EU terms, governed by EU laws and EU institutions.” Britain’s negotiating mandate insists that “we will not agree to any obligations for our laws to be aligned with the EU’s, or for the EU’s institutions, including the Court of Justice, to have any jurisdiction in the U.K.”

That conflict will be one of the big hurdles in talks, which are due to begin Monday in Brussels. Fishing is likely to be another flashpoint. EU nations — especially France — want Britain to grant European fishing boats long-term access to U.K. waters. Britain wants to negotiate fishing quotas annually.

Britain left the EU on Jan. 31 but remains bound by the bloc’s rules until a post-Brexit transition period ends on Dec. 31. A divorce agreement between the two sides allows for the transition to be extended for two more years, but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists he will not agree to that.

Johnson’s Conservative government says the U.K. will be leaving the bloc’s structures — including its single market for trade in goods and services — as of Jan. 1, 2021. Britain hopes by then to have a trade agreement with the bloc similar to the one struck between the EU and Canada. Such a deal would eliminate tariffs and quotas on trade and goods, but it’s less clear what it would mean for the services sector that makes up four-fifths of Britain’s economy. The U.K. also aspires to strike side agreements in areas including fisheries, law enforcement and judicial cooperation.

The British government is warning businesses that no matter what happens there will be new barriers to trade between Britain and the EU, which currently accounts for almost half of U.K. trade. Even with a free trade deal there will be new border checks and customs forms to fill out.

The EU-Canada deal also took years to strike — now the two sides have just months. Britain’s negotiating guidelines insist that there is “limited, but sufficient time” to get an agreement. The document says a “broad outline” of an agreement should be done by June. It warns that if there is not sufficient progress by then, the U.K. could walk away and focus on “domestic preparations to exit the transition period in an orderly fashion.”

Britain’s tough talk is unlikely to impress EU negotiators, who already accuse Johnson of trying to water down commitments Britain made in the divorce deal that paved the way for the country’s seamless departure on Jan. 31. That withdrawal agreement dealt with three broad issues — citizens’ rights after Brexit, Britain’s liabilities after 47 years of membership and the need to keep people and goods flowing freely across the border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.

The two sides have agreed to maintain an open border by keeping Northern Ireland aligned to EU rules even if the rest of the U.K. diverges. But recent comments by Johnson’s government seeming to downplay the significance of that agreement have set off alarm bells among EU leaders.

Behind the hard rhetoric, the two sides do have room for agreement. Britain has promised it won’t undercut the EU by lowering standards on environmental protection, food hygiene or workers’ rights. But it won’t agree to let the EU be the judge of whether it is living up to those commitments. The challenge for negotiators will be to find a way to make that commitment binding that both sides can agree on.

“We’re not going to engage in some race to the bottom,” Johnson said. “All we want is mutual recognition of each other’s high standards, and access to each other’s markets.” In Brussels, EU spokeswoman Dana Spinant said she “wouldn’t want to jump to conclusions about the outcome” of talks.

“However, the commission maintains its capacity to prepare for a no-deal (U.K. exit)” even as it prepares for “a positive result of those negotiations,” she said.

Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this story.

UK employers fear worker shortages in new immigration plan

February 19, 2020

LONDON (AP) — Vegetables rotting in the fields, food going unprocessed, the elderly and disabled left without care. That’s the alarming picture painted by some British employers about the impact of new U.K. immigration rules set to be introduced in less than a year.

Farms, food factories and care homes said Wednesday that they will face severe labor shortages under the government’s plans to open Britain to skilled and educated immigrants while shutting out those its deems “low-skilled” workers.

The message from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government was blunt: “Employers will need to adjust.” “We need to shift the focus of our economy away from a reliance on cheap labor from Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation,” the government said in a paper laying out its immigration plans.

WHY ARE U.K. IMMIGRATION RULES CHANGING?

Britain’s exit from the European Union last month after 47 years of membership is triggering the biggest change to the country’s immigration rules for decades.

When Britain was part of the EU, citizens of the bloc’s 27 other countries were free to live and work in the U.K. and vice versa.EU workers came to Britain by the hundreds of thousands. More than 3 million EU citizens currently live in the U.K. They are all entitled to stay. But once a post-Brexit transition period runs out on Dec. 31, that free movement will end and the new U.K. immigration rules will apply to EU and non-EU citizens alike.

Britain’s 2016 decision to leave the EU was driven in part by a belief that large-scale immigration had pushed down wages and increased joblessness among British-born workers. Many economists say there is little evidence that’s true. The U.K. already has low unemployment, and immigrants create jobs as well as fill them. Nevertheless, “taking back control” of immigration was a key promise made by Johnson and other proponents of Brexit — one the government can now claim to have delivered.

“The real message that is being sent to the electorate in the U.K. is: ‘We have control,’” said Rob McNeil, deputy director of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University.

WHAT ARE THE NEW RULES?

Starting next year, most people hoping to move long-term to Britain will need to speak English to a “required level” —the level of fluency is not specified —and have the offer of a job paying at least 25,600 pounds ($33,000) a year. Prospective immigrants who earn less may still be able to come if they have other skills or work in an area where there are shortages, such as health care.

The new rules don’t cover refugees or asylum-seekers, and there will be separate routes for students and highly talented scientists, artists and athletes. But there will be no system of visas for “low-skilled workers” or most self-employed people.

WHAT DO BUSINESSES THINK?

The British immigration proposals mean a radical — and unwelcome — change for sectors of the U.K. economy that rely heavily on EU workers. The British government’s own estimate is that 70% of the more than 1 million EU citizens who have moved to the U.K. since 2004 would not have qualified for visas under the new rules.

Many migrants from eastern Europe have jobs picking Britain’s fruit and vegetables and working in food-processing factories. Toby Williams, chairman of the National Farmers’ Union in southern England’s Kent county, said British workers simply don’t want those tough, relatively low-paid jobs. He said Britain’s fruit, vegetable and flower farms need about 70,000 seasonal workers, but the government is proposing to give visas to only 10,000 a year.

He said automation could help some, but not in the short term. “There is work being done on that but it’s not going to be in five minutes’ time,” Williams told Sky News. “You’re talking 10 years’ out, probably.”

More than 100,000 EU citizens work in caring for Britain’s elderly, disabled or chronically ill — just under 1 in 10 of the total workforce in a sector that already has many unfilled positions. Christina McAnea, assistant general secretary of the Unison trade union, said the new immigration rules “spell absolute disaster for the care sector.”

Businesses that employ bakers, butchers and baristas are also worried. Mark Harrison, policy manager at the Food and Drink Federation, urged the Conservative government to open up an immigration route for entry-level workers.

“The food and drink industry is reliant on workers at all skill levels,” he said. “We have concerns about access to those potential employees who won’t qualify through these ‘skilled’ routes, such as bakery assistants, meat processors, and workers essential to the production of huge array of basic foodstuffs such as cheese, pasta and sausages.”

The government appears unmoved by their concerns. “It is about time businesses started to invest in people in this country,” Home Secretary Priti Patel said Wednesday.

WILL U.K. IMMIGRATION FALL? HOW WILL THAT AFFECT THE U.K ECONOMY?

The government claims the new rules will reduce net immigration from its current level of more than 200,000 people a year. But it’s unclear whether the numbers really will fall. Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London, said “most of the impact has already happened – migration from the EU has dropped sharply” since the 2016 Brexit referendum.

A majority of immigrants to Britain now come from outside the 27-nation EU — and the new rules will actually make it easier for them to move to the U.K. by lowering education and salary thresholds. The government’s plans still need to be turned into law, and many questions remain about visa fees, paperwork and other aspects of the system.But Johnson’s Conservatives won a substantial majority in Britain’s general election in December, so the party has the numbers to pass its plan into law.

“If the government delivers on its promises to make the new system quicker, more efficient, less bureaucratic and more user-friendly, it could be good news for employers and the wider economy,” Portes said. “But that is a very big ‘if’.”

UK unveils immigration overhaul for 2021 focused on skills

February 18, 2020

LONDON (AP) — Britain announced new post-Brexit immigration rules Tuesday that will make it tougher for European Union citizens, but easier for people from many other nations, to move to the U.K. starting next year.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government said the new rules would “open up the U.K. to the brightest and the best from around the world” while ending “the reliance on cheap, low-skilled labor coming into the country.” But U.K. employers said the radical changes could bring about a labor crisis for sectors such as health and social care.

Britain’s exit from the EU last month after 47 years of membership is triggering the biggest change to the country’s immigration rules for decades. During Britain’s EU membership — and until a post-Brexit transition period runs out on Dec. 31 — citizens of any of the EU’s 27 nations can freely live and work in the U.K.

More than 3 million EU citizens currently living in the U.K. are entitled to stay. But from January 1, 2021, new immigration rules will apply to EU and non-EU citizens alike. Home Secretary Priti Patel said Britain’s new “points-based immigration system” would assess prospective immigrants on a range of skills, qualifications, salaries or professions.

People hoping to work in Britain will need a job offer paying at least 25,600 pounds ($33,000) a year. That’s less than the current 30,000 pounds ($39,000) set for non-EU immigrants, a figure that is more than the country’s average annual wage. Prospective immigrants who earn less may be able to come if they have other skills.

Skilled immigrants are currently required to have a university degree but in future will only need the equivalent of Britain’s pre-university “A levels.” The government says the new rules will cut net immigration from its current level of more than 200,000 people a year. But it has abandoned a pledge made by previous Conservative governments to cut Britain’s annual net immigration figure to below 100,000 a year.

The immigration plan still has to be passed by Parliament — which is highly likely since the Conservatives have a large majority. The government said it would come up with specific proposals for scientists, graduates, health care workers and those in the agricultural sector. But there is no specific immigration route for what the government calls “low-skilled workers” — a category it says includes 70% of the more than 1 million EU citizens who have moved to the U.K. since 2004.

Hundreds of thousands of EU citizens currently hold jobs in sectors including farming, health care and restaurants that are relatively low-paid. Employers in those industries have warned there will be worker shortages under the tighter immigration rules. The U.K. Homecare Association described the lack of provisions for low-paid immigrant workers in the proposals as “irresponsible.”

“Cutting off the supply of prospective care workers under a new migration system will pave the way for more people waiting unnecessarily in hospital or going without care,” it said. But the government was unsympathetic.

“We need to shift the focus of our economy away from a reliance on cheap labor from Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation,” it said in a policy paper. “Employers will need to adjust.”

Many people who voted in 2016 for Britain to leave the EU were believed that immigration had driven down wages and driven up joblessness among British-born workers. The evidence for this is partial at best.

The Migration Advisory Committee, an independent body consulted by the government on immigration plans, said introducing a points-based system would only “very slightly increase GDP per capita, productivity, and improve the public finances” compared to continued free movement of EU citizens, and would also reduce Britain’s economic growth.

Diane Abbott, the immigration spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, called the proposed new system flawed. “This isn’t an ‘Australian points-based system’, which is a meaningless government soundbite,” she said. “It’s a salary threshold system, which will need to have so many exemptions — for (the health service) — for social care and many parts of the private sector, that it will be meaningless.”

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