Brexit: 200,000 construction jobs at risk if UK loses EU single market access

RICS’s head of UK policy says Brexit ‘has the potential to slowly bring the UK’s £500bn infrastructure pipeline to a standstill’

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Almost 200,000 construction jobs could be slashed if Britain loses access to the European single market, jeopardising half a billion pounds worth of infrastructure projects and dealing a sharp blow to major UK cities’ global competitiveness, according to a study.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in a report published Wednesday said that 8 per cent of the UK’s construction workers are EU nationals, accounting for some 176,500 individuals.

Almost a third of construction professionals surveyed by the professional standards group for the study said that hiring non-UK workers was important to the success of their businesses, but access to the European single market is critical to being able to do that.

“These figures reveal that the UK construction industry is currently dependent on thousands of EU workers,” said Jeremy Blackburn, RICS’ head of UK policy. “It is in all our interests that we make a success of Brexit, but a loss of access to the single market, has the potential to slowly bring the UK’s £500bn infrastructure pipeline to a standstill,” he added.

Mr Blackburn said that unless UK access to the single market is secured – or alternative plans are implemented – the country will not be able to create the infrastructure needed “to compete on a global stage”.

The RICS said in Wednesday's report that UK construction is already “in the grip of a skills crisis” and that the Government must put interim, transitionary arrangements in place to avoid a potential “cliff edge”. It also said that Westminster must “seek out and attract private investors” that can help safeguard the future of the sector during these turbulent times.

“This is key to improving our productivity and regional rebalancing in the UK, while enabling us to become an even greater global gateway for trade and tourism beyond Brexit,” the institution wrote.

Earlier in March, the RICS set out a wish-list for Brexit, citing five things that it believes should be strategically prioritised by the Government as divorce negotiations get under way.

As well as setting a concrete timeline and doing its utmost to attract foreign investment, the group is demanding that the Government pushes for skilled international workers to be able to come to the UK, for an agreement to be reached swiftly for the "passporting" of professional services and for it to seize the opportunity to reset British agriculture by leaving the Common Agriculture Policy.

“How we manage land is crucial to farm production, quality of our landscapes and the variety of nature we enjoy,” the RICS wrote at the time. “We must maintain basic support structures, albeit at new levels, and gear towards those who manage less favoured areas.”

Theresa May was late Monday given the green light to start the formal Brexit process as MPs and Lords passed the Article 50 bill.

Two Lords amendments – guaranteeing the rights of 3 million EU nationals in Britain, and giving MPs a “meaningful vote” on the outcome of the negotiations – were thrown out with large majorities.

The former was met with fierce protest on social media, with thousands of criticising the Government for leaving them riddled with uncertainty and angry at being treated like “bargaining chips”.

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