A key business group has sounded a note of caution as Theresa May outlined her planned new immigration strategy.
The Prime Minister unveiled the strategy as part of her speech to the CBI about the draft Bexit agreement .
She said it would no longer be the case that EU nationals could “jump the queue.”
Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Lancashire-based Federation of Small Businesses said:“With employment levels up and migration from the EU down, small businesses are already struggling to access the right skills.
“That’s why it’s so vital that the post-Brexit immigration system is designed with them in mind.
“When considering immigration arrangements post-Brexit, it’s critical to remember that 95 per cent of small firms have never made use of the UK’s non-EU, points-based immigration system.
“Simply expanding the current non-EU immigration system to the EU would therefore be the wrong decision. The system must first be reformed to be responsive and accessible for small employers.”
Mr Cherry added: “One in five small employers rely on staff from the EU. More than one in three say finding the right staff is currently holding back growth.
“If they’re lumbered with complex paperwork and a surcharge to bring in EU staff post-Brexit, that will cause a significant drag on the billions they contribute to the economy each year.
" As speculation continued over whether the Prime Minister will face a leadership challenge, she was defiant and trying hard to sell the draft agreement to business chiefs.
It was broadly welcomed by the CBI as a postitive step forward.
Mr Cherry said: “Over the coming week, we hope to see Theresa May build on the outline declaration regarding our future relationship with Europe.
“The number one priority must still be to avoid a catastrophic no-deal scenario.”