Firms 'could move south' after Brexit

Restrictive migration policies could force Northern Ireland businesses to relocate to the Republic
Gareth McKeown

A LEADING local business organisation has warned that firms in the north could relocate to the Republic if restrictive EU migration policies are implemented post-Brexit.

Speaking following the publication of the Government-commissioned Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) report, the CBI in Northern Ireland warned that an unfavourable system could force employers to consider their future here.

The long-awaited report states that EU nationals should be subject to the same rules as migrants from the rest of the world after free movement ceases to apply in the UK, while it also concluded that the post-Brexit immigration system should make it easier for higher-skilled workers to come to the country, while continuing to limit access for those in lower-skilled roles.

Angela McGowan, CBI NI regional director, said the report provides useful insights but is not a roadmap for a new system.

“The critical recommendation missing from the report is that migration should be part of our trade negotiations with the EU. The Migration Advisory Committee leaves this decision open to Government and says that it might be ‘something of value to offer in negotiations’. If it is the Government’s intention to implement a global system, preferential access for countries where the UK has trade deals will be essential to provide the basis for an open and controlled system that can work for the whole economy," she said.

Ms McGowan expressed frustration, especially on behalf of the north's agri-food industry, which relies heavily upon EU workers.

"The MAC recognises that a restrictive approach to EEA migration would pose a challenge for Northern Ireland’s critically important agri-food industry, but unfortunately it fails to offer a workable alternative. There is a danger that Northern Ireland employers could be forced to relocate to the Republic of Ireland to maintain their competitive advantage if the already tight local labour supply is further restricted."

CEO of Hospitality Ulster, Colin Neill said the report is "stark reading" and the recommendations risk the future of many small businesses in the north.

"In Northern Ireland currently one in five of the workforce in the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland is accounted for by foreign workers and they are an essential part of our industry.

"By 2024, just six years from now, we will need an additional 2,000 chefs and in total the sector will have over 30,000 job vacancies to fill over the same period."

"It is clear that these vacancies can’t be filled from within Northern Ireland and retaining access to skilled labour from overseas is vital," Mr Neill added.

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) believes the recommendations made in the report would cripple the construction industry.

"The construction industry knows it needs to do much more to recruit and train many more domestic workers. However, given the important role migrant workers have played, and the already high levels of employment in the UK workforce, it is crucial that the post-Brexit immigration system allows us to continue to hire workers of varying skill levels, regardless of where they are from," Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB said.

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