How global mobility should cope with Brexit uncertainty
Following the British decision to start the Brexit negotiations, there were some signs of progress. UK negotiators were due to start talks with their EU counterparts in June 2017 to negotiate the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU – and thus give global mobility professionals the information they needed to plan with confidence.
And then on 8 June, the general election result may have tarnished Theresa May’s mandate to negotiate on behalf of the UK and plunged the process back into uncertainty.
In the light of this new setback in our quest for a definitive framework for planning EU-UK relocations and global assignments, it’s worth recapping a few key points – and then reminding ourselves how global mobility departments should deal with the situation.
- The EU has made it a priority to clarify EU workers’ rights. A vote of EU member states (apart from the UK) in March took just 15 minutes to resolve that one of the key points of any Brexit deal was to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK after Brexit. While the UK wants to retain some control over immigration, it cannot have free access to the EU pool of labour (which it needs) without ceding something at the negotiating table. Global mobility strategists would need to know the details on workers’ rights both in the EU and in the UK, and will be pleased that this is high on the agenda of the EU negotiators.
- The UK needs workers from the EU. Of the 3.4 million migrants working in Britain, EU nationals account for 2.3 million – or 7% of the total working population. The Office of National Statistics recognises their significance and the need to ensure the relocation labour continues seamlessly after Brexit, noting that EU nationals are “particularly important to the wholesale and retail, hospitality, and public administration and health sectors”. While the Brexit vote may have given some people an opportunity to vent their spleen over immigration, this has gradually been replaced an increased sense of realism over the need for worker mobility.
- The UK wants to retain its commercial position, as well as it relocation flow towards the continent. It’s an obvious point, but given the political turmoil, the clearest voice in the UK is coming from British businesses, which are determined to keep the UK as a key business partner to Europe (and London as a place to do business). While financial services companies like JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Standard Chartered have all recently issued statements about their contingency plans to relocate parts of their business from London to continental Europe, they also know the risks. The UK has well-established infrastructure, experience and expertise, and a forced relocation would risk fragmentation and inefficiencies that would help no one. Instead of arguing over a one-off departure bill with the EU, UK business leaders are suggesting ministers should focus on the estimated 600 billion euro value of UK–EU trade in supply chains.
How to deal with uncertainty
The uncertainty is worrying – but it is also nothing new to the world of global mobility. We need to remember that we simply need to factor this uncertainty into a systematic assessment of the value of global mobility – a strategic calculation of the value generated by an assignment in line with the overall business.
It has become more difficult to plan relocations between the EU and the UK, but this should simply affect the way in which relocation business cases are analysed. Factor in the potential increased cost of persuading people to go or organising visas and add it to your calculation of the strategic value of each assignment.
While everything else is changing, the need to calculate and highlight the value of what you’re doing should remain at the top of your agenda. The uncertainty has made this calculation trickier, but this should be nothing new to global mobility departments who have been arranging relocations to much more complex places for years.