One of the main concerns surrounding the Brexit negotiations has been the fate of the 3.5 million EU nationals currently living and working in the UK. Certain employment sectors – particularly the agricultural industries, the NHS and the hospitality services – are likely to be disproportionately affected by the loss of valuable staff members from EU countries.
Pre-referendum, there was a dire warning from the government that a seven-day NHS would no longer be a reality if we lost our continental labour force. The IPPR referred to this as a public health emergency.
The actual status of EU nationals will not be clear until we have completed the two years of post-Brexit negotiations; however, as the law currently stands, all EU citizens who have lived in the UK continuously for five years have an automatic right to stay. Most of the 3.5 million who currently live here will therefore have qualified for permanent residence by the official exit in 2019; however, the Social Market Foundation (SMF) thinktank estimated at the beginning of August that almost 600,000 EU nationals will not be awarded this right.
At the end of July, Theresa May addressed the 800,000 Poles resident in the UK, asserting that she wants and expects them to stay. She has promised to protect and defend the rights of Europeans on our soil, as long as the situation is reciprocated, with Britons who work and reside in the EU similarly secured.
It is thought that it will be extremely difficult for the UK to remove the rights of the majority of the current EU-origin population; however, it is also thought that the prime minister is under political pressure from hard-line Tory Eurosceptics who wish to curtail immigration as much as possible. Although around 80% of the EU workforce in the UK will retain its protected status, industries that are heavily dependent upon migrant labour may still be adversely affected.
Whether we get the ‘hard Brexit’ demanded by the Eurosceptics largely determines the exact consequences for migrant-dominated sectors of employment. As negotiations are set to be protracted and convoluted, we will not know the complete picture until closer to the exit date in 2019; however, SMF has called for the government to issue more information and statements of intent on this subject, as it closely affects so many people’s lives and so many organisations’ future.
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