It has almost been one year since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union and the negotiations on the " how" have just begun with both sides seeking to strike a positive tone in the press conference at the end of Day 1 of this historic moment.
Brexit Minister David Davis said London wanted a "new, deep and special partnership in the interest of Britons and all Europeans. There is more that unites us than divides us," he said, adding that Britain was looking for a "positive and constructive tone" in the talks. "So while there will undoubtedly be challenging times ahead of us in the negotiations we will do all that we can to ensure we deliver a deal that works in the best interests of all of our citizens," he added ( Sky News sources).
Unpicking 43 years of treaties and agreements covering thousands of different subjects is not exactly going to be a straightforward task, including the fact that it has not been done before and the post-Brexit trade deal will need the approval of more than 30 national and regional parliaments across Europe.
The conundrum is that leaving the single market and the custom union is the only way for the UK to control its own laws, borders and immigration and strike international trade deals. Staying in the single market however means that the UK would be remaining under the European Court of Justice, allowing unlimited EU immigration under freedom of movement rules. One can see that compromises will be needed...
The UK has agreed to the sequencing of the negotiations to this effect: reciprocal citizen rights, the "divorce" bill and the Irish Border question.
So, where do the two sides stand on these points?
1) Citizen rights
: there are currently 1.2 million Brits living in the EU and the 3.2 million EU citizens living in the UK
The EU position is that EU citizens must be able to continue to live in Britain ( including those arrived just before Brexit day) and that they must be allowed to apply for UK citizenship and all the benefits that come with it and this would equally apply for Britons living in the EU. On this point both sides quite rightly agree.
The sticky point here is that the EU would expect the European Court of Justice to have jurisdiction over EU nationals in the UK for however long they live there. With a repeal bill and potential changes in employment laws to come post exit this could/would create perhaps a two tier justice system.
2) Divorce bill:
the EU expectation is that the UK "pays up to what it had been committed to". There hasn't been an official figure issued, speculations is that it could be about €60bn. Again difficult to stomach ( or to afford) from a UK prospective...
3) Irish border
: both the EU and the UK wish to maintain a soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland ; the question here will be how to achieve this given that the UK wants to leave the single market and custom union.
What does this mean for UK businesses?
It is impossible right now to prepare for potential changes in immigration and employment laws and this administrative burden can only be dealt with when the negotiations are concluded and the UK has actually exited the European Union. For sure though there will be some impact ( extent to be determined) on recruitment and the UK future talent profile with some industries affected more than others.
Companies should start preparing now by analysing the impact immigration changes would have on their own business together with their own supply chain . The low to medium skilled market is far more likely to be affected with construction, hospitality and food manufacturing probably going to suffer the most by the reduction in EU migration.
I believe that proactive workforce planning will be crucial for businesses and building a talent profile needs to start now with more varied people development avenues to address and raise the skill gap ( see my previous blog " Brexit: the countdown has begun...and now?
Business (and HR) need to:
- tackle the supply of candidates
- consider wider demographics
- provide a blend of skills (Apprenticeship with no age restrictions?) creating intergenerational training
- re-skill individuals and prioritise local talent which might become non-negotiable in time, exploring all recruitment channels and look at under-utilised groups.
There is a big world out there and, although it mights be problematic in the short term, Brexit could be very exciting in terms of exploring the wealth of worldwide talents outside the EU - controlled immigration does not mean no immigration after all.
This could be the perfect proactive workforce planning in motion: a coordinated effort between private and public sector, education and government to create a flexible, modular and scalable workforce/education plan and a consequent VISA allowance to address shortages in the country, plan which is regularly reviewed and amended as needed. "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to success is more important than any other one thing"
- Abraham Lincoln. ' I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination'.
And in the words of our own Winston Churchill: "A Pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity ; an Optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty".
Brexit will be the biggest HR Transformation programme ever which, if used effectively, could turn on its head all old paradigms about employment , employability - who can do what - and that could be really exciting .