EMPLOYERS fearing EU labour gaps have not “bothered to try to find UK people” instead, former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has said.

Appearing on Radio 4’s Today programme, the Tory MP dismissed a call from business chiefs to scrap immigration targets after Brexit.

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Instead, he said work permits should be extended to all foreign workers: “A lot of employers simply have not even bothered to try and find UK people to work.

“The best thing to do is work with what we have got and make it work for everyone around the world. You basically extend the work permit process across the EU and the rest of the world.

“People can come here for work, but they need to have work to come to, and that work needs to have been agreed and accepted that there isn’t a person in the UK that could do that work and has the skills to do that work.”

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The former Tory Party leader, who founded the universal credit benefits scheme, went on: “Access to benefits, including child benefit, even if you don’t have your children with you, has distorted the whole system around them being able to offer much cheaper wages and have them completely topped up.

“In the last year figures were available, and this is important, more than £4.1 billion was spent on people from the EU who have come over here getting tax credits, child benefits, housing benefits. That’s one of the great pull factors.

“Leaving the EU, we should not be offering for people to come over here just looking for work and to claim benefits.

“We need a living wage that does not require people to come over here and claim benefits to top up.”

Confederation of British Industry (CBI) deputy director-general Josh Hardie responded: “The suggestion that British businesses do not even bother to look at British workers to fill roles is wholly detached from reality and needlessly provocative to the thousands of firms across the UK facing labour and skills shortages.

“Businesses are trying to have a balanced, honest debate about a new immigration system for the UK.

“We need to build this model from facts, not fantasy.”

The CBI has called for the scrapping of immigration targets post-Brexit.

Hardie said: “This is no longer a theoretical debate. It’s about the future of our nation. Openness and control must not be presented as opposites.

“Scrapping blunt targets, ensuring all who come to the UK contribute and using the immigration dividend to support public services will add to public confidence.

“Many sectors are already facing shortages, from nurses to software engineers – so fast, sustainable, evidence-based action is needed.”

SNP immigration spokesman Stuart McDonald MP said: “There must be a root-and-branch review of immigration policy and that review should be based on facts, not on the ideological interests of the Tory Party.

“The UK Government has repeatedly promised an immigration white paper and an immigration bill over the past year, yet it has shamefully failed to deliver, with only a matter of months left before the UK leaves the EU.

“The Scottish Government has set out the overwhelmingly strong case for Scotland to have the power to tailor its own immigration policy to reflect its unique demographic needs.

“It’s high time the UK Government ended its narrow-minded approach, and instead worked with the devolved governments in order to protect our economy, the business community and hundreds of thousands of jobs.”