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Balfour Beatty’s Brexit Broadside

How Hard Brexit could have a negative impact on construction industry skills

The end of next month could see the triggering of Article 50 by Prime Minister Theresa May. This, being the first part of Britain’s divorce proceedings with the EU, could see the construction industry at a crossroads. The negotiation process, all being well, is set to take two years. What has concerned many EU nationals and businesses is the kind of Brexit terms we may be about to receive.

Among the biggest critics is Balfour Beatty, the well known civil engineering business noted for motorways and railways. The contracting giant expressed its concerns for the future of the rail industry in a recently published paper. It warned that:

“Uncertainty around the free movement of labour in the EU could increase the industry’s recruitment and staffing difficulties as it may no longer be able to handpick highly skilled engineers from other EU countries as is currently the case.”

This is where Hard Brexit is going to make employing people from Mainland Europe and the Republic of Ireland difficult. With the Hard Brexit, there is no freedom of movement. The United Kingdom could only be subject to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. This would also mean severing ties with the European Economic Area countries (all EU Member States plus some outside including Norway and Switzerland), the Customs Union, and the Schengen Agreement. The last enables free trade with the Republic of Ireland and the Isle of Man.

Recently, Balfour Beatty has recruited personnel from Greece and Portugal, who have helped to modernise Britain’s railways. Only 0.2% of applicants came from non-EU countries, citing bureaucracy as its principal issue.

Furthermore, exiting the European Union will exacerbate skills shortages in the rail industry. According to their sources, the average age of rail engineers is 56 years old. This is no good if the future Sir Nigel Gresley is separated by visa and work permit issues as well as the English Channel.

With the House of Lord’s inflicting yet another defeat for Government momentarily securing the rights of EU nationals and with HS2 being given Royal Assent, Balfour Beatty’s fears are well and truly justifiable.

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