The Government’s new immigration policy designed to break the ‘reliance on cheap labour from Europe’ has been branded a ‘major blow’ to Cumbria’s economy.

President of Cumbria Tourism, Eric Robson dismissed the Government’s new post-Brexit immigration policy as ‘flawed’ and accused it of failing to recognise the ‘specific needs of our visitor economy’.

Meanwhile, chief executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, Rob Johnston, has warned that some hotels may be forced to close if the policy curtails recruitment of low skilled labour from overseas.

He also expressed fears that the impact will also be felt in other sectors of Cumbria’s economy.

The two – along with other business leaders in the county – have long-called for the Government to put in place a flexible immigration policy for the UK when it leaves the European Union.

After months of speculation fuelled by recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the Government finally launched its new way forward on immigration on Wednesday.

Its new ‘firm and fair’ system includes a wage threshold of £25,600 for overseas workers wanting to stay in the UK longer term but does not include a visa option for low-skilled migrant workers after Brexit as many in the county had hoped.

Cumbria’s tourism sector is worth £3 billion to Cumbria’s economy.

It relies heavily on migrant workers given the relatively low unemployment levels of districts such as South Lakeland and Eden, and an ageing workforce that is not been replaced by young people entering the jobs market.

While it is estimated that around a third of Cumbria’s 65,000-strong tourism workforce are from overseas, more than half of workers in the Lake District come from the EU.

And the new wage threshold for immigrant workers – which was first put at £30,000 until it was lowered by the MAC – has long been a sticking point in Cumbria given the average wage for a hospitality role is £17,000.

An exasperated Mr Robson said: “European workers are an important asset and we’re calling on the Government to rethink this flawed policy, which will severely restrict our industry’s ability to attract and retain the staff they need to not only to fill job roles but also to deliver world class customer service.

“We require a range of workers to sustain tourism related- businesses, maintain vibrant communities and secure future prosperity for all sectors.

“From the start, we have been calling for ‘special case’ recognition for rural areas like Cumbria which face unique recruitment challenges. Disappointingly, these proposals fail to recognise the specific needs of our visitor economy.”

Mr Robson vowed to keep pressing the Government and lobbying local MPs to ‘urgently address’ the situation.

Westmorland and Lonsdale MP, Mr Farron is already on side, accusing the Government of unleashing a ‘wrecking ball’ on the Lake District’s hospitality industry.

Employers will have until January 1, 2021 to meet the requirements and ensure their staff have a right to work in the UK.

The Government has said it wants to ‘instead ‘concentrate on investment in technology and automation’ rather than rely on overseas workers, adding ‘employers will need to adjust’.

Cumbria Chamber chief Mr Johnston said technology and automatic ‘isn’t an option for the hospitality sector where customers expect to be served by real people, not machines’.

“We’re not scaremongering,” he said.

“Hotels have told us they might close if they’re no longer able to recruit migrant workers. It’s likely that some will convert to self-catering accommodation or aparthotels, which need fewer staff.

“There will be a knock-on effect on other sectors. In a tight labour market, everyone is fishing in the same pool for staff. Even businesses that don’t employ migrants themselves will find it harder to recruit.

“Food businesses, in particular, could see their profits badly squeezed if they’re forced to raise wages to attract staff. Very often, they’re supplying supermarkets who won’t let them pass on higher costs.”

Expressing disappointment at the Government’s stance, he added: “The Chamber put the case for a flexible immigration system that recognised the needs of the hospitality and food sectors in Cumbria – but they haven’t listened.”

Business leaders in other sectors have also been left angry by the new immigration system.

Chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, Brian Berry, said it will ‘hamper the construction industry’s capacity to deliver on key projects’, adding: “We will need general labourers as much as architects or surveyors. They are a core part of the construction industry and it’s simply unrealistic to assume the domestic workforce will fill this gap in the next nine months.”

The Freight Transport Association has also called for an immediate policy rethink, saying restrictions on EU workers – which account for 13 per cent of the country’s logistics workforce – could have serious consequences on the UK’s ability to keep trading.

The Unite union has also waded in.

Its assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “Migrant workers have contributed and do contribute greatly to our economy and country. These proposals must not create hostility to these workers.”