Staying Connected: can UK business thrive after Brexit?
On January 31st, the outcome of 2016’s historic EU Referendum finally came to pass.
After four years of indecision, political quarrelling and uncertainty, citizens across the UK are beginning to put their plans in motion for the end of the all-important transition period in December 2020.
But what will Brexit mean for British business? Certainly, there has been no shortage of speculation.
With the recent rise in UK-manufactured goods, some argue that more people than ever will strive to ‘buy British’, helping UK agriculture and industry thrive.
Others claim that freedom from the EU will permit UK workers to flourish. Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid claims that more funds can now pumped into areas across the Midlands and the North, with a primary focus on the development of "skills, skills, skills".
Of course, the post-Brexit commentary has also had its share of scepticism.
Last Friday (February 7th), The Financial Times columnist Bethan Staton reported that “the economic impact of leaving the EU” is chief among the most pressing concerns felt by young people in the UK.
An article on SmallBusiness also added that companies are “likely to be stuck in limbo even though they are theoretically supposed to be operating under existing trade agreements.”
This sentiment of ‘limbo’ is one that is broadly felt across a range of industries, including immigration law – a sector that is sure to remain at the very forefront of any Brexit-based fallout.
Shara Pledger is an Associate at Latitude Law, a well-established immigration Law Firm based in Central Manchester.
When quizzed on how the departure will affect business, she spoke frankly of her concerns, but remained somewhat optimistic.
“One good thing is that we finally have a leave date. We’ve solved the deal/no deal conundrum: we know, we’ve left, we have a deal.
“We are in a transition period now, which will stay in place until the end of the year, So it’s great to know that we have that leeway - but of course, we still don’t know what’s coming afterwards.
"I know we’ve just got over the fact that it’s 2020, but it’ll be 2021 before we know it.”
According to Pledger, there are some things that employers and businesses in the UK can reasonably predict, prepare, and hope for.
Among them is the way in which they deal with employees that hail from the EU – a delicate matter by anyone’s standards – when it comes to applying for re-settlement after the transition period.
“(Employers) should absolutely try to encourage their staff to make their applications as soon as possible so as to avoid any problems with getting status confirmed.
“There is kind of a fine line, however, between encouragement and insistence.
It’s really important that employers tread carefully when discussing this with their employees at the moment, because to say ‘you MUST now make this application’ is not correct.
“There is no legal requirement to complete the application now, and they may even be in breach of employment laws and regulations by telling an employee that you cannot continue their employment unless they make the application.
“Support is key, and the home office have put out what they call the 'Employer’s Toolkit', so I would advise any employer that is likely to have staff that are affected by Brexit to read and utilise that resource.”
Aside from the finer details of business management, there have also been worries that Brexit has fostered a sentiment of nationalism, or anti-immigration.
According to the Centre for Entrepreneurs (CFE), around 14% of businesses in the UK are owned and operated by migrant entrepreneurs.
Should we expect to see a drastic change in these statistics?
According to Universal Think Tank, a partner of Latitude law, the answer is a resounding 'no'.
UTT is an international business consultancy that is striving to prevent anti-migrant rhetoric from taking root within the UK business community.
Their staff comprises of Chinese and English nationals, and seeks to foster small UK businesses through the introduction of skilled workers, angel investors and talented individuals from outside of the EU.
Dr. Hope Zhao, CEO of Universal Think Tank, strongly believes that the “international talent” and funding brought to the UK by her clients has an important part to play within post-Brexit Britain.
“In this country, a very high percentage of businesses are privately owned. The UK is a very ambitious country: it is a great place to start a successful business.
“My company has done it, and so have many other people, but we are still just a small island.
“There are only so many people, so many talents and resources, that we have access to.
“For a country like ours, innovation is important – new people mean different ideas, different skillsets, and more capital available for investment in private business.
“By helping business people from abroad, no matter if they are from China, Canada, India or Japan, to realise their business plans in the UK, the UK economy can only benefit.”
Through the positive message of companies like UTT, the idea of Brexit as a potential source of business and immigration reform – rather than simply catastrophe – is slowly forming.
Despite their critical reservations of Brexit, Latitude Law echoes this optimism.
“The reality of the UK economy requires those high migration numbers - whether people like it or not, that’s how our country operates,” says Shara Pledger.
“If we, as a result of taking EU migration into our main intake of migrants, are able to simplify that system and take out a lot of red tape, it could be to the benefit of employers equally, whether they are recruiting someone from Portugal or someone from the Philippines.”
If you require guidance on managing your business after Brexit, the Employer's Toolkit can be accessed here.