New report to highlight human cost of Brexit for construction sector

A new ACE report due to be released on 8 November will highlight the true impact of EU workers on the UK consultancy and engineering sector, writes Julian Francis

More than a year since the EU referendum, discussions and fallout around Brexit continue to dominate the national debate. Migration was the defining issue in the UK’s June 2016 referendum on EU membership and continues to be the key issue in negotiations in Brussels. 

The fate of EU and British citizens affected by Brexit is the fault line on which the debate on EU membership swings from the theoretical to the persona - the point where it begins to affect people’s lives.  The uncertainty that has been created over the long-term prospects for EU workers in this country has begun to have implications for the UK economy to the point where the issue can no longer be ignored.  

The government has, therefore, commissioned an independent study into the role that EU nationals play in the UK economy, but the study is not due to be published until September 2018 - just six months before Britain’s deadline to exit the bloc.

Home secretary Amber Rudd has asked the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to examine how migration affects the labour market and the wider economy, and how any arrangements after Brexit will ensure that UK industry can remain resilient.

The political reality of Brexit has forced ministers to increasingly acknowledge an uncomfortable truth - Britain needs immigrants. Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks.

But with the findings not due to be published for more than 12 months, the move is unlikely to placate trade bodies and business groups representing companies that are hugely dependent on labour from abroad.

ACE member firms are understandably concerned about how Brexit will affect their staff going forward and would like to see a more certain legal position on EU workers’ rights in the UK. This has led to many internal and external discussions about what the true impact of EU migration is for our sector. 

We are currently, however, missing the data needed to make our case, as an industry, to government for the importance of EU nationals and why their retention post 2019 is so important. 

The Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), alongside other trade bodies in the industry, has, therefore, begun to compile the data that will show the true impact of EU workers on the construction sector in the UK. 

This will be contained in a report that ACE will be launching on 8 November at our annual parliamentary reception. We will then compile our findings with those of other sectors in the industry to make a united and concerted case to both the MAC and the Home Office for the importance of continued access of EU workers to the construction industry.

Julian Francis is the director of policy and external affairs at the Association for Consultancy and Engineering.