Greg Wright: We must listen to voices of reason in Brexit debate

Allie Renison  Picture Tony Johnson.
Allie Renison Picture Tony Johnson.
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YOU are always more likely to do business with your next door neighbour.

You are also more likely to rely on your next door neighbour for goods and labour.

So when, Allie Renison, the Institute of Directors’ respected Head of EU and Trade Policy, outlines the case for a “preferential reciprocal movement of labour” between the EU and the UK after Brexit, we would be wise to listen.

Ms Renison speaks to businesses across Britain who are on the commercial coalface and deeply worried about any potential loss of EU labour after we leave the EU.

Last week, during a visit to The Mansion in Roundhay, Leeds, Ms Renison said that there was a case for some form of “preferential reciprocal scheme” for labour movement between the UK and the EU after Brexit.

She told me: “When you look at the issue of geographic proximity, there are lots of other examples around the world where you see countries that are physically close together actually having a preferential scheme for the movement of labour.

“You see that between Australia and New Zealand.. so the same rationale and logic should apply for access to EU nationals particularly when you’re moving engineers, for example, at short notice.

Ms Renison added: “A lot of people have pan-European operations that they need to move staff quickly around.

“So, even if it is not full on freedom of movement, some kind of preferential reciprocal scheme for movement of labour is massively important.”

In recent years, EU nationals have helped to keep Britain’s economy motoring along. For example, engineers from the EU are filling vital roles in companies across the UK because the local labour market is not fit for purpose.

As Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI’s director general, observed: “The Migration Advisory Committee confirmed that EU workers - at all skill levels - pay in more than they take out. They have not reduced jobs, wages or training for UK workers.”

Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), also believes the Government should encourage EU workers to come to the UK after Brexit to help tackle “biting” skills shortages in areas such as health and social care.

Mr Carberry, who previously held senior roles at the CBI and the Low Pay Commission, said EU nationals were needed to help fill labour shortages.

He said multi-national teams are needed at highly skilled levels, where teams are serving clients in many countries from the UK.

He added: “In areas like hospitality, health and social care, and logistics we are already seeing shortages biting. In logistics last year our members could only fill 70 per cent of the roles on offer. Half of those roles were filled by EU nationals so there’s a real challenge in a number of areas.”

Amid the sound and fury of Brexit, we need to take advice from sensible, informed voices like Allie Renison, Carolyn Fairbairn and Neil Carberry.

They aren’t interested in petty political point scoring. They are just speaking up for business people who know that they will still need access to skilled EU labour for decades to come.

Ms Renison’s argument in favour of a preferential reciprocal movement of labour scheme after Brexit certainly has merit, assuming the EU agrees to it.

Many large organisations have operations in the UK and the EU.

If you are an engineering firm based in Yorkshire with operations in Germany and France, you will be very keen to move skilled workers across national boundaries as easily as possible. Even after freedom of movement ends, it will be mutually beneficial to the UK and EU to have some form of reciprocal arrangement to ensure staff can move with the minimum of fuss.

If this model can work in Australia and New Zealand, there is no reason why it cannot work here, with goodwill on both sides.

This goodwill can only be established when politicians on all sides take emotion out of the debate and speak in precise and logical tones.