Don’t overlook the human side of Brexit

Trade: Naz Demir, international trade manager, expresses concerns that many Chamber members may be ignoring how their staff might be effected by Brexit and suggests it is a business imperative to explore the issue thoroughly

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As an international trade manager I am often asked about the impact of Brexit on import and export regulations, customs, tariffs, legal status and finance, but few question me on the people aspects. No one has asked ‘what would happen to my EU workers or to the British expat staff who are working and living abroad?’.

Statistics indicates that approximately 2.4 million people who are born in the EU are working in the UK, each one will be affected in a one way or another by Brexit depending on their circumstances. The UK exiting the European Union means that the government will end reciprocal European Freedom of Movement to the UK, which means that EU, EEA and Swiss citizens and eligible family members will need immigration permission if in, or entering, the UK after it leaves the EU (either 31 December 2020, which is the end of the ‘transition’ period in the event of a deal or, in the event of no deal, once free movement ends).

The government has stated that EU, EEA and Swiss nationals already resident in the UK will be eligible to apply for a new status confirming that they can continue to live in the UK after that date. The status can be ‘settled’ or ‘pre-settled’ in the UK. Irish citizens will not need to apply because the Common Travel Area agreements existed between the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland prior to the EU Directive.

The above statement appears to be quite complicated, especially for companies which have not dealt with immigration rules prior to Brexit, so in simpler terms, what does this translate to in practice?

I started my exploration voyage by speaking to a considerable number of company directors across various sectors and they all appear to be united in their desire: an immigration system that is fair, low-cost, modest and unbureaucratic to navigate.

I noted that the concerns appear to be higher amongst certain sectors as they feel that they will sustain a considerable damage in terms of shortage of supply of EU workers, these are key industries and services in UK, for example the food and drink manufacturing, hospitality and social care.

My exploration and discussions then in turn led me to thought provoking and critical questions. Do businesses have the necessary skills and workforce to continue delivering its business plan objectives? Has the HR department explored the potential impact of Brexit and the uncertainty surrounding its workforce? I fear that this in many respects appears to have been overlooked, for many EU nationals the past few months have been researching what the leave vote means for them with what it appears to be little or no support from their prospective employers.

Although, one must say that its not entirely the employer’s fault, one must agree with the notion that many factors such as the uncertainty around the shape of the labour market,
the unclear impact of changes in the employment law, the current and future changes brought about by the immigration departments are all factors that are potentially causing confusion for certain companies who are still not sure what Brexit might mean for them and are adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach.

Suddenly this became the turning point in my voyage and
I felt it’s critical for me to advise company directors to start having a clear strategy post-Brexit, whereby they create a workforce that provides the skills and people their respective companies need, whatever the final outcome of Brexit may be.

In examining the challenges that Brexit brings to the EU nationals who are living and working in this country, suddenly my thoughts turned to the Brits who are residing, working and owning properties across the EU. When we take a more in- depth look, it becomes quite clear that certain countries have taken measures to protect and safeguard those rights, though for many Brits the question is much more than a residency card, for example the impact on healthcare and pensions, specially in countries where a “No Deal” could lead to a “Third Country National” treatment. Cultural and language barriers could suddenly become an issue for individuals who will have to tackle new administrative and legislative cordons.

The more I think about this, newer scenarios jumps into my thoughts, what about third country nationals who are married to Brits and/or have EU residence? How are they treated post- Brexit and will they face more red tape? Freedom of movement is a much deeper issue than just a simple stay or leave. Whether we agree or disagree with what the public voted for, Brexit brings about a new challenge for families and individuals who are affected by new immigration rules. Perhaps the emotional strain is an aspect we are all overlooking for all parties involved.

Brexit might open the door to certain threats, but with it comes opportunities and its appropriate to identify from the outset that plans need to be modified in response to how the future unfolds. Whether we agree or disagree with the current way the whole Brexit has been dealt with, we must remember that the business arena with its various sectors remains competitive so now isn’t a time for complacency.

The UK will face a brighter future only if organisations are able to recruit the right candidates, train as appropriate and retain the skills and labour they need to achieve the overall business objectives as previously stated. A statement I read recently appear to be appropriate to end this article with: “Adaptation is built in, rather than ad hoc.”