One of the most contentious aspects of Brexit is what will happen to EU nationals already living in the UK. UK businesses need to recruit top talent to stay competitive and this can only be achieved if we remain open to EU workers and protect the rights of those already resident in the UK.
Yet the Government has not been clear on whether it will do this. Earlier this week it was reported that the Prime Minister has drawn up plans to end freedom of movement rules as soon as Article 50 is triggered to prevent a sudden influx of EU nationals before Brexit actually happens. The Government has also repeatedly resisted confirming that EU nationals already resident in the UK will be allowed to stay.
Thankfully, the House of Lords has now amended the draft Brexit bill to secure the rights of EU nationals already living in the UK. This is a major defeat for the Government who wanted to keep their cards close to their chest, hoping to gain similar assurances from other EU countries about the rights of British citizens’ resident abroad. Politically, this is also important for helping to warn off the threat of anti-immigrant UKIP and the right-wing of their own party.
The House of Lords amendment should be welcomed by British business and all those concerned about the future of the UK economy. Many UK businesses rely on EU workers to fill skill shortages and a recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the Adecco Group has found that sectors of the UK economy which are heavily dependent on EU labour are already starting to experience skills and labour shortages.
It is vitally important that we don’t lose our best companies during Brexit and we have already seen warnings by the financial sector and others that they are considering migrating to the EU in the event of a ‘hard’ Brexit.
Ensuring that UK businesses maintain access to the Single Market will help, but keeping access to the EU talent pool is vital. However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t also look at ways to upskill the British workforce. Having a larger choice of home grown and international talent can only benefit our businesses, and help keep them in the UK.