UK conference season gives no further Brexit clarity
 
UK conference season gives no further Brexit clarity
01 OCTOBER 2018 7:10 AM

As political parties in the U.K. gather for their traditional September conference season, Brexit yet again is on the top shelf for discussion, but no closer to offering clarity on the subject of employment.

Back in July, speaking at the UK Hospitality Summer Conference in London, politician Michael Ellis, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the department for digital, culture, media and sport, said he and the government “take the concerns, aspirations of the tourism industry very seriously.”

If we boil all those concerns down to one, what we are left with is staffing. Oh, well, maybe also reduced investment or inflation dampening discernable income or …

Staffing, though.

Staff in the United Kingdom hotel industry comes from Europe, mostly, due to legal requirements, from the 27 other countries of the European Union.

“Other” because generally we are told the British themselves have no desire to enter the industry.

That is not fully true, of course. This week, I received a news release and photo of 14 young hoteliers who have just graduated, each with a foundation degree in professional hospitality operations management from University College Birmingham and partly sponsored by white-label hotel management firm RBH.

A degree involves study, sacrifice and discipline, so it can be assumed that these young people will make their dreams come true in our industry.

But most have in recent decades arrived from over the English Channel, and employment being at its highest level for many years does not help the equation.

For many months, one of the larger conversations in the U.K.’s dull, onerous, confused shuffling towards the dark, dank and dusty cupboard that is Brexit concerned the legal rights of EU citizens living, working and building lives in the U.K. and what would be the rules and regulations of EU citizens wishing to follow that course after the U.K. leaves the EU, which we are told will be on 29 March 2019.

Now it is U.K. political party conference season, and our more vocal politicians, with both eyes on re-election and their careers, are making their stands on the matter clear.

Their arguments most recently have been shaped by a report from the very Orwellian sounding Migration Advisory Committee, which probably does not advise any migrant.

The authors of the “European economic area migration in the U.K.: Final report” state “we recommend moving to a system in which all migration is managed with no preferential access to EU citizens. … This would mean ending free movement but that would not make the U.K. unusual—for example, Canada has an open, welcoming approach to migration but no free movement agreement with any other country.”

So where will your employees come from? Are you worried? Are you more worried now than, say, two weeks ago given this rhetoric? Please let me know. I, myself, am probably standing firmly to one side of the argument.

Canada is much mentioned. U.K. politicians have talked about a Canadian solution to the U.K.’s new trading, administrational and migration policy, as it has a Norwegian solution. After all, why not? Canada and Norway are seen as very rational, sensible, civilized places.

But the U.K. like it or not, is tied far more closely to the EU than either of those other two countries, even Norway, which has never been a full member of the EU and has worked out its own “landscape” over decades and not via a short, sharp divorce.

Canada is a long way away, and while it is mentioned in this context as a model, not as a geographical entity, most often trade is done with near neighbors, not distant ones.

As for staff, if they can legally move, they generally do so closer to their homes.

Ellis added at the conference that the “post-Brexit world might determine the short- and medium-term problems and strategies for the industry,” and the government is “already taking steps to reduce uncertainty for as many people as possible.” He added: “I hope that some of the government’s policies have already allayed your fears as to staffing.”

Which is saying nothing at all.

Maybe you can tell me if that is so and my fears are overblown.

No one might be able to say. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s latest plan for EU divorce, known as the Chequers Plan after her country house where she and her ministers wrote it, was rejected by the EU two Thursdays ago. Some of those ministers have distanced themselves from it since supposedly signing up to it. And with the PM’s Conservative Party meeting this week in Birmingham (maybe those new graduates will be taking special notice?) the arguments over this most contentious issue in British politics appear to be becoming more entrenched, confused and acrimonious.

And the opposition Labour Party is nowhere close to its own policy on anything connected with Brexit either, seemingly waiting to somehow benefit when 29 March comes along with no agreement on the U.K.’s final divorce, something referred to here as “no deal.”

It always looked like the opposition view was to leave, too, or in its weak parlance something along the lines of “respecting the referendum vote to leave,” but last Tuesday its shadow secretary of state for exiting the EU, Keir Starmer, said at a party conference that “nobody is ruling out remain as an option.” That is, Brexit might not be a given.

That statement could also—probably would—mean a vote on the final terms of the exit, not a second vote on whether to stay or to leave.

Brexit? More indecision? Not good news for employers in any industry, not alone the hotel industry with its dependence on low-skilled, or initially low-skilled, staff.

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter.

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