CBI survey prioritises post-Brexit access to foreign skills

The CBI has told the government that it must negotiate a Brexit deal that allows UK companies to get access to the required foreign skills and labour.

CBI survey prioritises post-Brexit access to foreign skills
The government has been told by Britain's biggest employers' organisation that it was essential to negotiate a Brexit deal with the European Union that allows UK companies to get access to the foreign skills and labour they need. 

"Barrier-free" access needed after Brexit

After consulting thousands of business leaders and trade associations across the country since June's referendum, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) also said all sectors of the economy would need to continue to enjoy "barrier-free" access to EU markets after Brexit. In its report, 'Making a Success of Brexit', published on Wednesday, the CBI said the government must consider the complexity of the modern economy where no business operates in isolation. "Products come with complementary services, supply chains overlap across borders, and many companies do not fit neatly into a single sector," said the report. "Our consultation shows that the UK's new relationship with the EU needs to be tariff-free, with minimal non-tariff barriers across every sector. There are some companies for whom avoiding high tariffs on their goods trade is critical and others who prioritise avoiding non-tariff barriers to trade, particularly around services. "Critically, it is clear that, for the UK's modern, interdependent economy, additional barriers to any sector's trade will be detrimental to other sectors."A new arrangement with the EU must therefore be open and comprehensive, covering goods and services, tariffs and non-tariff barriers."

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The report added that there were "serious concerns in the business community about disruption if the day after the UK leaves the EU, its final 'deal' is not complete, with all trading and regulatory issues fully ironed out".

Questions across business sectors

The CBI said the consultation had revealed that many questions were shared by businesses across sectors, citing examples of:
  • Airlines and the wider aviation sector, which employs nearly one million people. who "are asking how the government will seek agreements that allow the smooth transport of holiday-makers, workers and goods, as are logistics companies, haulage firms and retailers"
  • Restaurants who want to know how they will continue to hire chefs from abroad, while companies in the chemicals and plastics sector, who exports are worth almost £30 billion this year, are asking whether they will still be able to access the skilled employees they need at their plants. This is also an issue for logistics firms who already face a shortfall of nearly 35,000 HGV drivers
  • Construction companies, whose projects in building homes, roads and railways are worth more than £100 billion to the UK economy, who are asking about the potential costs of importing materials and the future of the CE marking regime, as are many manufacturers
  • Creative industries, which employ nearly two million people across music, film, video games, architecture and more, need to know about the future of Intellectual Property and data flows, as do life sciences businesses, technology companies and other sectors

Carolyn Fairbairn comments

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director-general, said, "Businesses in every corner of the UK are rolling up their sleeves as they prepare for life outside the EU and are committed to making it a success. Leaving the EU will be a highly complex process, and all sectors of the economy are making their priorities clear in order to get it right."The government will need to take a 'whole economy' approach to avoid leaving sectors behind. While each sector has issues specific to them, there are many cross-overs and common principles that unite them, for example the need to avoid cliff edge changes that cause disruption to supply chains and trade."Where companies differ is how they prioritise these issues and the contrasting emphasis they place on trade, migration and regulation. To make a success of Brexit for the whole economy, government needs to work through all these issues, as well as seize the opportunities afforded by a new focus on the UK’s global economic relationships."

Business priorities over Brexit

The report identified six common principles as business priorities over Brexit: 
  1. A barrier-free relationship with our largest, closest and most important trading partner.
  2. A clear plan for regulation that gives certainty in the short-term, and in the long-term balances influence, access and opportunity.
  3. A migration system that allows businesses to access the skills and labour they need to deliver growth.
  4. A renewed focus on global economic relationships, with the business community at their heart.
  5. An approach that protects the social and economic benefits of EU funding.
  6. A smooth exit from the EU, avoiding a cliff-edge that causes disruption. 

The government agrees

Responding to the report, a government spokeswoman said, "We agree with the CBI that we want a smooth and orderly exit that works for all sectors of the UK economy."That is why we have been engaging intensively with businesses across the country, building a strong understanding of the challenges and opportunities that Brexit brings."We know businesses want certainty, which is why we have announced plans for a Great Repeal Bill, transposing EU law into UK law wherever practical, while our upcoming industrial strategy will create an environment where companies big and small can thrive."The prime minister has made clear that we will deliver the best possible access for UK businesses trading with – and operating within – the European market."

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