Brexit: EU citizen guarantees should have come much sooner, says British Chambers of Commerce

‘This offer could have been made loudly and clearly nearly a year ago,’ Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, says

Josie Co
Business Editor
Friday 23 June 2017 12:09
The BCC has issued some of the strongest warnings from the business community on Brexit
The BCC has issued some of the strongest warnings from the business community on Brexit

Business leaders have welcomed Theresa May’s commitment to guaranteeing citizens of the European Union the right to stay after Brexit, but have also criticised how long it took the Prime Minister to voice it.

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said on Friday that “concerned business communities across the UK will welcome” the proposal but will also feel a “tinge of regret and frustration”.

“This offer could have been made loudly and clearly nearly a year ago in the immediate aftermath of the referendum, which would have spared individuals, communities and employers significant angst and worry,” he said.

“Signals matter, and the UK Government’s lack of clarity until now has meant that many UK firms have lost valued members of staff, with others saying that key employees are thinking about leaving,” he said.

Les Montgomery, the chief executive of bottled water company Highland Spring, told The Independent that a small number of his workforce of around 600 left the UK in the aftermath of last year’s vote.

“It felt to me like the UK was saying we don’t want you [to EU workers],” he said. “Which is obviously not true.”

The Office for National Statistics estimated in May that long-term net migration was 248,000 in 2016, down a “statistically significant” 84,000 from 2015.

Around 117,000 EU citizens left the UK in 2016, an increase of 31,000 on 2015 and the highest recorded estimate since 2009.

Speaking at a Brussels summit on Thursday, Ms May outlined five principles, including that no EU citizen resident in Britain at a specific cut-off date would be deported.

She promised to provide further details next week, but also said those EU citizens who had lived in Britain for at least five years would be guaranteed the right to stay for as long as they want.

She said that anyone who had been in the UK for less than five years would be allowed to stay until they reach the five-year threshold for “settled status” and that there would be no “cliff edge” scenarios.

But Mr Marshall emphasised that having greater clarity on any deal was a matter of urgency.

“The UK and EU must strive for an ironclad, reciprocal guarantee on citizens’ rights as soon as possible in the Brexit negotiations,” he said.

“Individuals and businesses – both here and on the continent – cannot be left in limbo until the conclusion of the final Brexit agreement.”

The BCC has issued some of the strongest warnings from the business community on Brexit.

Earlier this year it published a report, based on feedback from more than 400 businesses, in which it demanded that the timing of Brexit be pushed back if the Government proved unable to strike a comprehensive trade deal within the two-year negotiating period.

One of its key demands in recent months has been that the Government provide clarity for businesses on the residence rights of existing EU workers in the UK and the ability of firms to hire from EU countries during the negotiating period.

The BCC has also called on Westminster to minimise tariffs, avoid the introduction of costly non-tariff barriers, grandfather existing EU free trade agreements with third countries, and expand the trade mission programme.

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