The ongoing saga of Brexit

The ongoing saga of Brexit often comes across as being a battle between “Britain” on the one hand, and “the EU” on the other. With discourse at that supranational level, it’s often easy to forget that the impact of these decisions will be felt most immediately at an individual level. Nowhere is that impact likely to be felt more keenly than in the context of migration.

For EU citizens living in the UK, the position remains uncertain. Individuals who have lived and worked in the UK for many years are likely to be able to secure their status, but must go through an application process to secure rights which they have taken for granted for many years. That uncertainty, which has endured ever since the Brexit vote and is not yet fully resolved, has caused many to leave the UK already, and has caused many who planned to come, to think again. Whether or not you agree with the Government’s stated ambition of massively reducing net migration, we can empathise with the emotional stress of our European friends and colleagues whose lives in our communities may be curtailed, and who face starting over in a new country.

Equally, for UK citizens currently living and working in EU member states, their lives may be impacted by reciprocal measures, imposed by those states in direct reflection of the treatment of their own citizens living in the UK.

That uncertainty about post-Brexit migration rules creates distress and confusion for individuals, who often turn to their employers for advice, support and practical help. We have helped clients respond to that demand, by providing seminars and workshops for their employees, and individual advice when required. From a business perspective, that support has improved retention rates for EU staff and has secured key personnel who may otherwise have abandoned the UK – all of which favourably impacts the bottom line. From the individual’s perspective, the support from their employer at a time of need is hugely appreciated and the employee’s engagement with the business is strengthened.

Of course, employers have their own personnel-related worries arising from Brexit. Government’s intention is that UK-based employers will have to apply the same process to EU citizens wanting to come to the UK after Brexit to work, as is currently applied to non-EU citizens. That will mean greater cost, more administration and increased uncertainty for UK companies looking to resource from abroad. But the first step in dealing with a problem is recognising that you have one, and UK employers would be well-advised to audit the workforce now: what is the scale of your exposure, and what are you going to do to mitigate it?

Engagement with these workforce issues may create an opportunity for more thoughtful dialogue about Brexit more generally, right across the business.

Euan Smith, employment partner, Pinsent Mason

Euan Smith, employment partner, Pinsent Mason