British professionals in EU fear losing right to practise after Brexit

19 Jan 2017 By Marianne Calnan

Select committee hears from doctors, lawyers and UK HR directors; ONS stats suggest employment growth is slowing

British medical and legal professionals living in EU countries fear they may no longer have the right to practise law, medicine or other disciplines if the government does not rapidly agree a post-Brexit deal.

A House of Commons Brexit select committee yesterday heard from groups representing Britons living in Europe, as well as from UK business leaders and HR directors who fear losing access to seasonal workers from the EU will cause them operational difficulties.

Gareth Horsfall, a financial adviser representing Britons in Italy, said: “When the UK pulls out of Europe, the legal entitlement [to practise] falls away. It’s not just a right to stay; it’s also a recognition [of professional entitlement].”

Discussing the issue a day after prime minister Theresa May announced her principles for Brexit negotiations but stopped short of guaranteeing the legal rights of EU citizens in the UK, one group urged her to seize the initiative.

Christopher Chantrey, a Briton living in France who is part of the Expat Citizen Rights in EU group, said: “It is the UK that is triggering this process. Therefore, it would be a magnanimous gesture on the part of the prime minister, and a good way of opening negotiations, to begin by saying: ‘We are doing this for EU nationals in the UK; we call on you to do the same.’”

The committee also heard from several major companies explaining the difficulty of recruiting enough people to fill seasonal roles. Beverly Dixon, HR director at farming business G’s Group – whose 3,800 UK workforce includes about 2,500 seasonal workers from eastern Europe – said the need for workers was growing, and warned the business would not be able to operate without access to EU labour.

Dixon said that since the EU referendum on 23 June, the company had seen the number of applicants for its roles drop 50 per cent. She called on the government to reassure migrants currently in the UK, and to introduce a seasonal worker permit scheme for EU nationals.

Susanna Rendall, managing director of Boxford Group, a Suffolk-based agriculture business, said it had attempted to hire local workers but had been unsuccessful. Of the five people recruited, one did not arrive, one left after the induction, two stayed for half a day and the final person did not return the following day. Rendall said that applicants for next year’s seasonal work were “way down”.

Meanwhile, analysis of the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics suggests Brexit may have been partly responsible for slowing employment growth. Between September and November 2016 the number of people who were unemployed fell by 52,000 to 1.6 million, with the jobless rate steady at an 11-year low of 4.8 per cent. However, the number of people in employment fell for the second consecutive quarter.

Gerwyn Davies, labour market adviser at the CIPD, said: “Against a backdrop of relatively strong economic activity and a high number of vacancies, the abrupt slowing of employment growth suggests that employers may be facing increased difficulty with finding suitable candidates. Recruitment difficulties are perhaps no surprise given the underlying trend in employment and unemployment, but part of the explanation could lie in the recent sharp slowdown in the supply of EU nationals.”

Davies added that it “remains to be seen” how much leeway employers have to raise pay and improve employment conditions to attract more British applicants to apply for low to medium-skilled vacancies.

Average earnings including bonuses increased by 2.8 per cent in the year to November, up 0.2 per cent on the previous month. 

Davies said: “The UK economy has shown remarkable elasticity since the referendum vote, and these figures suggest that the labour market is adjusting to its dizzying heights rather than deteriorating.”

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