UK - a destination of risk or choice?

Published:  09 March, 2018

Recent UK migration data from the ONS is worrying for industry. Having attended the annual EEF conference in London recently, it was plainly apparent that manufacturers are extremely concerned about the inability to recruit people with the right skills for their business. Jeremy Corbyn, who was the main guest speaker at the event, was highly applauded for his response to a question on skills, by telling the audience that skilled freedom of movement of labour was part of his vision after Brexit. Obviously playing to his audience he did however offer a coherent and practical solution to the skills problem. Dr Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary who was also present earlier in the day, but did not take any questions much to the annoyance of many present, did not offer such a solution.

The very discussion around freedom of movement has become a political football and the voice of industry has been quite obviously sidetracked. Government’s support for Industry through rhetoric is politically valuable but the reality is that ministers do not want to answer tough questions directly from those who it effects, which was quite obvious at the EEF conference.

The economic realism of no freedom of movement is not being fully discussed in a sensible manner. The fact is that the UK will need a high degree of freedom of movement after Brexit whether it likes it or not. If the Government continues down its current vision the consequences will quickly become more damagingly apparent and is already being seen through the ONS figures. The UK will not be able to fill the significant skills gap quick enough in order for industry to compete at the highest levels if there is an even more dramatic drop in EU citizens.

Tim Thomas, director of employment and Skills policy commented recently that the data from the ONS confirms what many businesses already know – steep falls in many EU nationals seeking work in the UK have continued, with some nationalities reaching historic lows.

Immigration from non-EU nationals has outstripped workers coming to the UK from the EU, and for EU workers from older member states - France and Germany - is taking a nose-dive. Study is now the second most common reason for immigration, which is a cause for celebration for the UK’s outstanding Higher education sector, but does not provide the workers needed to drive the economy of UK plc now.

I agree with Thomas that the UK government needs to shout, loudly, and in the direction of the EU that their citizens are needed, welcome and will enjoy long-term security by coming to the UK to work, study and settle. Without this, more will see the UK as a destination of risk not choice.

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