Business and HR chiefs voice fears as Brexit triggered

The UK officially gave notice of its intention to leave the European Union when Sir Tim Barrow, British ambassador to the bloc, handed a six-page letter triggering Article 50 to Donald Tusk, president of the European Union Council, in Brussels.

Business and HR chiefs voice fears as Brexit triggered
Sir Tim Barrow, British ambassador to the bloc, has handed a six-page letter to Donald Tusk, president of the European Union Council, officially triggering Article 50 as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.In the letter, Prime Minister Theresa May insisted that the vote to leave the union in last June's referendum was not a rejection of European values and said the UK wanted the EU to “succeed and prosper”. It went on, “The referendum was a vote to restore, as we see it, our national self-determination. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe – and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent.”

Seven negotiating principles

The letter set out seven negotiating principles: both sides to engage “constructively and respectfully, in a spirit of sincere cooperation”; an obligation to put citizens first; the desire to reach a comprehensive agreement; cooperation to minimise disruption and uncertainty; resolution of border questions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; the start of technical talks on detailed policy areas as soon as possible; and a desire “to work together to advance and protect our shared European values”.Reacting to the start of the Brexit process, Sadiq Khan, London's mayor, said Mrs May must ensure the rights of more than three million people born elsewhere in the EU and now living in Britain, were protected.Speaking on a visit to Paris, Mr Khan said, “Today, Theresa May has a huge opportunity to give them a cast-iron guarantee that they can stay here after Brexit as she triggers Article 50. This would start negotiations with a powerful symbol of goodwill and both sides should give this assurance today.”He added, “I'm urging both sets of negotiators to make securing an interim deal their first priority, particularly for financial services. This will reduce economic uncertainty on both sides of the Channel while the negotiations unfold.“I didn't vote for Brexit, but I am optimistic about London's future. My conversations with European and EU leaders this week have left me in no doubt that there is a good Brexit deal to be done if the Government approaches it in the right way, a deal that is in the best interests of London, Britain and the EU.“However, striking this deal will be extraordinarily complicated and difficult and, like all Londoners, I am hopeful that the negotiators will act in good faith and agree a deal that works for everyone.”

Reaction from the CBI: Certainty for EU workers in the UK

Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said, “Business has three suggestions to help set a constructive tone for the talks – after all it’s in everyone’s interests to get the best deal.“Firstly, we want to see certainty for EU workers here and UK citizens overseas. Secondly, discussing new trading arrangements should go hand-in-hand with negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU. And we need both sides to commit to interim arrangements if a deal is not possible inside two years.  “Above all, UK companies need to know as soon as possible about the UK’s future trading relationships. That’s why the next six months are crucial.”The CBI has already warned of the dangers of a ‘no deal’ scenario, which would open a Pandora’s Box of economic consequences for UK businesses, leading to higher costs and delays affecting jobs and pay.

Reaction from the IoD: 'Maintaining confidence is key'

Stephen Martin, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said, “Now the real work begins. Ministers must roll up their sleeves and focus on getting a good deal for Britain in the tough negotiations ahead. Success means listening to business on the vital priorities of maintaining tariff-free trade, minimising customs red-tape and keeping the bureaucratic hurdles to bringing in necessary skills as low as possible.“Business leaders are optimists by nature, but they are now facing substantial change, with the UK leaving both the EU Single Market and the Customs Union.“Maintaining confidence over the next few years will be key, and that means the Government must prioritise a smooth Brexit, with the terms of the withdrawal deal and our new trading arrangement both agreed before we walk through the exit door. We’ve felt a lot of heat in the months since the referendum, now we need to see the light showing us the way to a good Brexit.”

Reaction from the CIPD: Significant implications for immigration

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the professional body for HR and people development, commented, “The triggering of Article 50 marks the start of a process that we expect to have significant implications for our immigration policy and access to EU migrant workers, as well as other possible changes to our employment legislation and frameworks.“It may take years to fully understand the implications of Brexit for the UK but it’s also important to recognise that this is just one of many forces shaping the future world of work. Now more than ever, we need government and businesses to put people and skills development at the heart of their thinking.”
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Mr Cheese said the future of the UK’s immigration system would be one of the most significant challenges for the negotiations to resolve.“CIPD research and official data have already shown a reduced flow of migrant workers from the EU into the UK since the referendum and there’s evidence that many EU workers are considering leaving the UK,” he said.“It’s essential that the status and rights of EU migrants in the UK is confirmed early in the negotiations to give certainty to those individuals and help employers to retain vital skills as they plan their workforce development strategies for the future.“While we expect there to be changes to the UK’s immigration policy there will undoubtedly still be a need for organisations to be able to access both skilled and unskilled labour from the EU, and further afield. It’s crucial that the Government designs a flexible immigration system that meets the demands for greater control, but also enables UK organisations to access the workers and skills they need if they can’t access those skills from within the UK.“This has been particularly recognised in key sectors such as healthcare, hospitality, transportation, agriculture, and construction, as well as fields like higher education, where significant levels of EU migrant workers have been attracted and would take many years to replace. We urge the Government to engage with businesses and representative organisations to ensure the new system can continue to support the skill and labour needs of UK businesses and keep our economy moving.”Mr Cheese added that an area of concern to many HR professionals was whether or not there would be any significant changes to employment rights and laws, which are currently a mix of EU and UK legislation and which “would be very complex and time-consuming to unpick for little, if any, real gains”.

Manufacturers warn of trade deal consequences 

Meanwhile, manufacturers from across Europe have issued a warning that failure to reach a Brexit trade deal would be “highly damaging” for industry in both Britain and the rest of the continent.The warning came from the Ceemet group of organisations, representing more than 200,000 manufacturers. British manufacturers' organisation EEF, which forms part of the group, said failure to reach a deal would risk the “lifeblood” of the country's economic success.Ceemet director-general Uwe Combuechen called on Britain and the EU to deliver “a stable and orderly exit, preserving as much as possible the often complex and delicate trading relationships that are in place”.Calling for “pragmatism on all sides”, Mr Combuechen said, “If we are to avoid a 'lose-lose' outcome for European manufacturing, it is essential that all parties work towards a reasonable deal for industry, while ensuring the integrity of the single market. Simply put, a negotiation which produces no deal would be highly damaging for industry in the EU as well as the UK.”EEF chief executive Terry Scuoler said, “It is imperative that the Government is focused on securing a deal that will enable both British and European businesses to flourish, investment and innovation to continue and trade to flow.“This will be the lifeblood that is key to the UK's future economic success – we cannot afford to see it disrupted or turned off in mid flow.“Forget all notion of crashing out of the EU without a deal and leaving business to pick up the pieces – focus instead on an orderly and smooth transition, the continuation of barrier-free trade, minimisation of costs and ongoing access to required talent and skills. Nothing less will do.”

A trade agreement that sees the tech industry continue to grow

Julian David, chief executive of the technical industry body TechUK, said that a smooth conclusion to the negotiations was “vital” for the UK's digital sector, which employs three million and accounts for almost a quarter of Britain's exports.“A chaotic Brexit that results in the UK falling back on WTO rules will benefit no one,” he warned. “The tech industry wants to see a trade agreement that ensure the industry continues to grow, including continued market access, frictionless movement of talent and a robust legal process for cross-border data flows.”For related news and features, visit our Brexit section.Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory  Get access to our free Global Mobility Toolkit Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centre

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