April 13, 2017 3.32 pm This story is over 85 months old

Barry Turner: Brexit will lead to a skill shortage and economic decline

It is painfully obvious that the loss of already resident skilled workers and a deterrent to any future applicants to work in the UK is going to impact negatively on the economy.

We are now inexorably on the way to the Brexit door and little but a political earthquake will prevent it.  That does not appear likely.  The government is still driven by an ideology, and the opposition — if such a word can be applied to the current Parliamentary Labour Party — is not driven at all. Ten months have passed since the referendum but still there is no plan for post EU Britain. Only a mind-numbing mantra of soundbites.

Immigration is still the ideology of the Brexiteer. It is a blind faith that control of our borders automatically leads to prosperity and freedom. That no evidence exists to support this is no problem for the ideologue. It is painfully obvious that the loss of already resident skilled workers and a deterrent to any future applicants to work in the UK is going to impact negatively on the economy.

Far from there being any sense in ‘sending home’ EU citizens after the final act of Brexit in two years time, there is likely to be a skill shortage caused by those already voting with their feet (and EU passports). Employment agencies in continental Europe have started reporting an increase in EU citizens based in the UK seeking redeployment elsewhere in the EU. This trend is particularly acute in the high skilled end of employment.

Human resources professionals are already reporting that Brexit will lead to more outsourcing of jobs abroad and poaching of skilled staff in the UK. Neither are good for a prospering economy. The outsourcing loses the exchequer revenue; the higher motility of skilled staff creates uncertainty and difficulty in strategic planning for employers

Quantitative and anecdotal data indicates this is already happening. According to a report in HR Magazine, record numbers of foreign nurses have quit the NHS since the referendum and polls suggest around 60% of European doctors are considering doing the same. In education too the likelihood of losing high skilled academics will hit hard cutting-edge research and risk making the UK less innovative and less productive. This would be a difficult trend to reverse.

It is becoming ever more apparent that the UK government needs to immediately declare that EU nationals currently in the UK will not require any change to their residency status and that recruitment from the EU will be unhampered by the UK’s status when it is fully out of the EU.

Those of the hard Brexit persuasion also need to realise that highly skilled workers who want to relocate to Britain are not going begging. If coming to work here is made difficult, if they are subjected to unnecessary red tape with visas and points systems, they just won’t come. The world is already competing for skilled workers and they need to feel wanted as well as being well paid.  We can make it hard to get residency status here and they can decide not to come. In the long run who will pay the economic cost of that?

Bearing in mind that getting rid of red tape is a Brexiteers rallying cry, it is odd that they believe that imposing it on highly skilled EU nationals, and for that matter on those less highly skilled but equally important to the economy, will be of benefit.

Barry Turner is a Senior Lecturer in War Reporting and Human Rights and a member of the Royal United Services Institute.