All ministers must prepare for grilling on Brexit exodus

by Luke Lythgoe | 05.07.2017

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is the latest politician to be caught out by those long-lens cameras outside Downing Street. He was snapped with a briefing note saying: “Hard Brexit means people fleeing UK”.

The NHS is facing acute staffing strains. Record numbers of EU-born nurses quit the NHS in 2016, while the number of those applying has dropped by 96% since the referendum. Similar trends have been recorded for doctors and other NHS staff.

But Hunt’s note – believed to be a draft response to a putative parliamentary question on the issue from the Lib Dems – could have been carried by any of May’s ministers, so widespread is the potential fallout from “Brexodus”.

It could have been Business Secretary Greg Clark with a note about the manufacturing sector, where 11% of the workforce are from the EU. Or the impact on restaurants and hotels, where the British Hospitality Association has predicted the shortage of UK workers is so severe that chains such as Pret a Manger will need 10 years to replace EU staff after Brexit.

It could have been Environment Secretary Michael Gove holding a note about seasonal agricultural workers. One in five summer fruit and salad growers is already saying they have fewer pickers than they need for this year’s harvest, with farmers blaming the weak pound and Brexit uncertainty.

It could have been Chancellor Philip Hammond carrying a briefing on financial services. Skilled EU workers in the sector feel high levels of discrimination since the referendum, and 43% say they are likely to leave before Brexit.

It could have been Education Secretary Justine Greening with a document addressing the impact on universities. Academics have warned of a 30% rise in EU staff leaving British universities over the last two years. There is further concern that EU-born students are losing interest in British universities. Applications were down 7% in January, with uncertainty over the level of tuition fees after Brexit likely to spell a further decrease.

It could have been Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, worried about the potential flight of the 175,000 EU construction workers in the UK – 8% of the sector’s workforce – and the impact on his department’s drive to build more housing.

It could have been Culture Secretary Karen Bradley, also responsible for the UK’s digital strategy, aware that Britain needs a welcoming migration policy if it wants to plug a shortage of IT skills and remain an attractive place for tech entrepreneurs.

Or it could have been Scotland Secretary David Mundell, preparing for some tough questioning from the SNP about how Scotland will keep attracting the young EU migrants who have helped reverse its population decline over recent years.

If the government is prepared for questions about why “hard Brexit means people fleeing” Britain, perhaps it’s time to start acting on it too by giving EU citizens more certainty than May’s recent post-Brexit offer. If the government holds off any longer, a lot of ministers will be facing a lot of uncomfortable questions on why we can’t staff our businesses or public services.

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    Edited by Alan Wheatley

    One Response to “All ministers must prepare for grilling on Brexit exodus”

    • If even under free movement within the EU, the UK is short of many thousands of NHS workers; including 700 unfilled vacancies at John Radcliffe in Oxford alone and there are shortages in hospitalities, care services, engineering, trades and farming; then how is introducing a bureaucratic permits system with a £2k entrance fee going to help?

      The legislative process of brexit requires 30,000 extra civil servants in Whitehall, but on present pay levels, they cannot be found either.

      Brexit is too expensive, disruptive to business and will lose £59bn p.a. in GDP (Treasury).