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The exam question remains unanswered

If you’re reading this expecting an answer to the exam question, the title of this blog, then you’ll be disappointed, as there is, currently, no definitive answer. But, we do at least have a good idea what the future will look like.



To start with, let’s keep it simple – the headline is not much is going to change before December 2020, on the assumption that the UK and the EU agree a divorce deal. The divorce deal is half in the bag, but we need as our lifeboat in time for the UK’s departure from the EU on 29th March 2019.

So, what does EEF’s latest data tell us?

Well, the big picture is skills are (still) short, and whilst the trend might be less severe, manufacturers are still seeing a drop-off in the numbers of EU nationals coming to the UK and an increase in EU nationals leaving. Government data from ONS suggests that those leaving are leaving for good, and won’t return. Why do we need EU workers? Because the UK can’t supply the numbers needed with the skills needed – even though manufacturers are training like never before.

Having sketched out the problem, what’s the solution?

Well, the answer to the exam question is nothing new – clarity, simplicity and timing.

1. Clarity

No-one lies like not knowing where they stand on something as important as their immigration status, and those with families don’t have the luxury of hanging on until twilight to find out the answer. So, to make sense of the migration muddle the UK need to send a clear message – “all EU citizens in the UK as of December 2020, together with their dependents and the families can stay permanently in the UK”. No fuss, no as long as……, just a simple message. Of course there will be a process, but the process is one of application and grant. As long as you’re a genuine EU citizen in the UK, and you’re ID can be checked, then that’s all there is to it.

2. Simplicity

Don’t change the rules, not even a bit, before the December 2020 cut-off date. The UK might not be keen on EU immigration rules, but as soon as we start changing them, we need to explain the changes, and inevitably, we will end up with the media filled with examples of real people who then fall out of scope, and left in limbo.

3. Timing.

Do it now. The UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016. It’s now May 2018, and nearly two years on, our survey gives no ground for thinking that we’ve cracked this. We all know that it’s a negotiation, we all know that within the UK political consensus is an emerging concept, but EU workers, their partners, children and dependents didn’t vote in the referendum and most didn’t sign up for this. In fact, everyone in the UK now either arrived in the belief that that would be covered by the EU umbrella, or has arrived whilst the UK has said nothing will change – so, we need to make good on the promise.


For employers – it’s hugely frustrating.

 Every day, we speak to responsible businesses who ask us what they can say to their EU workers, what they should do, and when they should do it – not unreasonable given we have 10 months to go to Brexit. We also need to remember that there are just under 1 million UK nationals in the EU, who are also waiting.

So, the answer to the exam question – say now, say clearly, nothing at all will change until at least December 2020. All EU nationals in the UK before this date – no need to do anything quickly, and your families and dependants are all welcome. Manufacturers’ need your skills and want you to stay.