A visit of the Brexit parliamentary committee to Aberdeen in December revealed to which extent EU nationals are part of the local economy. Some 70% of people employed in the fish processing industry are from EU countries, with peaks of 80% in some work places. Abattoirs are reliant on vets especially from Spain. The fruit sector is comprised almost entirely of Polish workers. Significant proportions of EU staff are also in the subsea engineering industry, as well as in health care and in tourism.
The data are included in a report published yesterday by the House of Commons Exiting the European Union committee. The cross-party panel was set up after the EU referendum to scrutinise the government strategy as the country leaves the European Union. The first report, published yesterday, sets out views on the exit process and what should be part of the negotiations.
The committee said that legal certainty will be required on the status of EU citizens in the UK and British living in other EU countries by the time the UK leaves the EU, no matter the results of the negotiations.
During the preparation of the report, MPs visited Sunderland, in the North East of England, and Aberdeen in Scotland to hear about expectations on Brexit from businesses and different parts of the society. Maintaining access to talent and skills, as well as to the EU single market, were among the key concerns emerged from the meetings.
The visit to Scotland was especially revealing. “On our visit to Aberdeen, the businessmen and women we met there painted a picture of a local economy that was heavily reliant on EU migrant labour at many different levels,” write MPs in the document.
But this may now change. “It was highlighted that the available workforce in Aberdeen and North-East Scotland had already shrunk, and there was evidence of people leaving as no one could provide reassurance about what would happen after Brexit,” continues the document. “Some businesses had EU workers with over 10 years’ experience in the UK and were worried that their expertise would be lost.”
Concerns were also raised in the academic sector, given the uncertainty on EU research funds and the difficulty of retaining EU staff and students.
Early priority for the negotiations
The committee called for a solution on citizens’ status as a matter of priority. “It is clearly in everyone’s interests to resolve the position of EU nationals currently in the UK and of UK nationals in other EU member states as quickly as possible so as to provide certainty and reassurance to the individuals, their families and the businesses and services that rely on them,” said MPs.
“We were struck by the fact that witnesses who were on either side of the referendum debate were unanimous, when asked, in expressing their opinion that EU nationals working in the UK should have their status assured. This must be an early priority for the negotiations.”
Similar calls have been made by the House of Lords EU justice sub-committee and by an enquiry coordinated by British Future, a think tank specialised on migration. They were also echoed across the political spectrum.
Clarifying the status of EU citizens in the UK is “within the gift of the government,” says the report. But in a recent letter to the3million, an advocacy group representing EU citizens in the UK, the UK Home Office declared that “agreeing a unilateral position in advance of these negotiations would lose negotiating capital with respect to British citizens in EU Member States and place the UK at an immediate disadvantage.”
We wrote to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd about the potential threat of deportation to EU citizens. See the response https://t.co/DIYb5RpSCB
— The3Million (@The3Million) January 9, 2017
The Brexit committee acknowledged that the task of registering EU nationals in UK will be complex and plans to continue working on the matter.
Other priority areas for Brexit negotiations, according to the report, are the budgetary commitments to the EU, the future location of EU agencies currently based in the UK and the preservation of the Northern Ireland peace agreement. MPs said that the government should publish its Brexit plan by mid-February and commit to giving the parliament a vote on the final deal.
They also argued that the UK’s future relationship with the EU should be negotiated in parallel with the exit deal and should include transitional arrangements.
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