Loss of EU workers after Brexit would be a 'huge blow' to Britain's small businesses

Shop front,ShutterstockA clothes shop on Portobello Road in London’s Notting Hill

LONDON — Over half of Britain’s small businesses are concerned about being able to grow their business and access workers with the right skills after Brexit, according to a new survey from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

The policy group’s latest report, titled “A skillful exit: What small firms want from Brexit,” found that 59% were worried about accessing workers with the right skills, and 54% were concerned about growing their business once Britain leaves the EU.

Many employers cited concerns over Prime Minister’s Theresa May widely expected crackdown on EU immigration after Brexit.

One-fifth of small employers said that they employ staff from the EU, and of those, 13% said they would consider moving their business abroad if Brexit creates additional barriers to recruiting EU citizens. Another 13% said they would be forced to reduce operations or even close down (8%).

May has pledged to cut immigration dramatically after Brexit by pulling Britain out of the single market and ending freedom of movement, the policy which allows EU citizens to move to and work in any member state without having to apply for a visa.

She already appears to be rowing back on a hardline immigration stance, however, as business leaders continue to voice concerns that a big cut in immigration would significantly damage the economy.

The prime minister’s cabinet last week appeared to row back from her pledge to slash net immigration below 100,000 from last year’s record high of 650,000, with culture secretary Karen Bradley insisting immigration policy was “not about numbers.”

Of the 650,000 who immigrated to Britain last year, 284,000 were EU citizens.

Immigration expert Patricia Hogwood told BI in March that a preferential immigration deal for EU citizens will need to be struck during the Brexit negotiation process, because implementing a system where EU citizens arrive through the same work permit channels as non-EU citizens would be “very, very costly to implement.”

FSB chairman Mike Cherry said:

“Restrictions on immigration will be felt more acutely by small businesses. Most small firms don’t have HR departments to deal with complex immigration procedures, or the time and resources to deal with swathes of additional paperwork or extra costs.

“They are least well-placed to cope with losing staff, or dealing with a burdensome application process from the government to retain and hire new staff.

“It is vital that the Home Office engages with small businesses as early as possible on the design of a new immigration system to ensure affordability and ease of use.”

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