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Brexit: The Human Side

During another eventful week at Westminster, MPs took part in a set of ‘indicative votes’ to try to break the deadlock and establish which alternative Brexit plan the House of Commons would be willing to support. Ultimately, however, the voting only underlined the fact there is a majority against everything and a majority for nothing, as all of the eight options selected by the Speaker John Bercow failed to gain enough support.

On the original planned exit day, Friday 29 March, the Government put the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement to a parliamentary vote once again, although this time without the political declaration. MPs rejected the PM’s deal for a third time by 58 votes.

In response Michel Barnier said. “Let me be frank: Without a positive choice, the default option would be a no-deal, which has become more likely. “

An emergency European Council meeting has now been called for 10 April. This week we look set for more indicative voting and perhaps a further vote on the deal as the Government works to an 8 April deadline to present a plan to EU negotiators.

Where does that leave business?

The failure to reach a break-through, with the clock ticking down to a possible no deal on 12 April, is taking confusion and uncertainty for business and their employees to another level.

Business groups, including the British Chamber of Commerce and the CBI, have reacted with strong words to the week’s events, with some talking of ”political crisis” or “spirit-sapping limbo”. The Federation of Small Businesses concludes: “Planning has stalled, investment is handcuffed and growth has flat-lined.”

The consistent theme we see among businesses is frustration at the current impasse and the need to continue to divert resources to No Deal planning, this time working towards a new date of 12 April.

The human face of Brexit

As another eventful week unfolds before us, business should continue to focus on employees.

It is estimated that 3.5 million EU nationals live in the UK, with steady EU migration patterns adding to the UK’s population over the past 10 years. However, since the 2016 referendum result, the Office of National Statistics has shown a consistent decline in the numbers of EU nationals coming to the UK for work, with a significant drop seen mainly in nationals from Eastern and Central European countries. This decline in EU workers – caused mainly by factors such as the erratic value of sterling and more widely the UK’s uncertain future outside of the EU - means that firms have found it difficult to recruit new EU nationals, whilst retention has also proven to be problematic.

The ongoing uncertainty raises many questions for EU nationals living and working in the UK as well as British nationals in EU countries. While this is an area where Brexit can have a truly personal impact, it is also one where the UK Government has provided a relatively high level of clarity - by making a number of unilateral decisions and confirmations last year to allow EU nationals to stay and continue to contribute to the UK’s economy and society.

I asked Awale Olad, a global mobility expert in Deloitte’s Brexit Insights team, to share his answers to the key questions employees are asking now:

"As an EU national living in the UK, will my rights be protected after Brexit?

Yes. The UK Government announced the EU Settlement Scheme in June 2018 and changed the immigration rules in August 2018 to demonstrate the UK’s intention to protect EU nationals’ rights and certify their status in the UK. You are eligible if you are an EU national (and a family member of an EU national) who has lived in the UK for five years or more, or for pre-settled status if you have lived here for less than five years. The scheme has just gone live to the public on Saturday 30 March 2019, is free of charge, and a very simple and straightforward application process. Just make sure you have an android device if you are using the app!

What about EU nationals who currently live in Europe but travel to work in the UK?

So-called ‘frontier workers’ may have accrued enough time in the UK to be entitled to settled or pre-settled status. In this case they should be encouraged to apply for the same scheme.

As a UK national working in the EU, will my rights be protected after Brexit?

It depends on which member state you live in (excluding Ireland). Most EU countries have provided some certainty for UK nationals who have accrued at least 5 years residency rights while others are in the process of finding a settlement on a way forward. What you will need to remember is that there is no EU-wide immigration system and if the UK formally becomes a third country, you will be treated the same way an EU member state treats a US national, for example. Your employer will need to keep monitoring the situation in each member state.

Are there any other consequences of a no-deal scenario that I should consider as an EU national living and working outside of my home country?

Yes. You could be affected by the termination of the current rules around the coordination of Social Security and the loss of the mutual recognition of qualifications. Also, your personal data could also become problematic – while the UK has confirmed it would not restrict data flows to the EU there may be disruption to data flows from the EU to the UK. ‘Appropriate safeguards’ must therefore be introduced to allow continuous data flows.”

The most important step businesses can take as an employer during these uncertain times is to frequently communicate with affected staff - employers who invest time and resource into their workforce are likely to have EU staff who feel more secure and crucially, more welcomed.

If you’d like more detail on the implications for people it can be found here, in the recently published joint Deloitte and CBI report.

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