Britain doesn’t leave the European Union until March 2019, but the lack of progress during negotiations and uncertainty over what a final deal is going to look like is already leading various key sectors in the economy, like banking, to make contingency plans.
Other sectors don’t have the same luck in preparing for the worst. The retail sector is the latest in a line of key industries for Britain that is warning that the lack of clarity over whether the UK is going to remain in the EU’s single market, or whether EU citizens will have the same rights and ease of movement, is already hurting the sector.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC), the major trade association for UK retailers, said in its report “The People Roadmap” (pdf), that the UK government has to provide clarity over these points and “a new immigration system fit for the future,” otherwise the nation could end up with a crippling job shortage.
The services sector makes up around 80% of the UK economy and if a steady flow of workers was restricted, it would be a nightmare for employers.
The retail industry has 170,000 people from the EU directly working for it, which accounts for 6% of the industry’s UK workforce, said BRC. And in some parts within retail, EU workers account for a much larger slice. For example, over a quarter in warehousing and distribution, are from the bloc, and a third of the permanent workforce in the food and drink supply chain are EU nationals.
BRC warned that it’s not just a threat that Brexit uncertainty is affecting jobs:
- 22% of its members reported that people from the EU have already left their UK workforces.
- On top of that, 56% of members within its association said “EU colleagues are concerned about their right to remain in the UK.”
“The UK’s decision to leave the EU has created uncertainty, not only for business, but for the people from the EU they employ. These are real people with families, livelihoods and homes in this country. It is not right that 16 months after the referendum these people still don’t have the security they need to continue their lives,” said Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the BRC.
Quartz already reported before how Britain’s Brexit plan to leave the single market in order to step away from the EU’s Freedom of Movement act is going to create schisms in the job market, thanks to the impact on the services industry.
Expats posted to the UK on corporate assignment recently warned that they are losing confidence in Britain’s political stability and what their immigration status is going to be.
Meanwhile, the financial sector, which accounts for at least 2.2 million jobs (each employee within that industry contributes more to the economy than the average worker) is poised to relocate or expand operations and jobs overseas to counteract Brexit. On top of that, construction, the National Health Service, and others are already being hit by this lack of uncertainty which doesn’t look like it’s going to abate anytime soon.