The UK's five leading business groups have united to call on the government to assure European Union expats working in Britain that they will retain residency rights after Brexit.
As the Royal College of Physicians warned that some EU doctors were already turning down job offers in the UK because of the referendum outcome, the business federations also demanded that long-planned infrastructure projects, including the expansion of runway capacity in London, be given the go-ahead to boost the post-Brexit economy.
In their open letter, the five business groups – the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Directors and the manufacturers' organisation EEF, the manufacturers' organisation, wrote: "Across the United Kingdom, the firms and business leaders we represent are considering the opportunities and challenges arising in the wake of the EU referendum. The government needs to provide clear leadership and immediate action on two fronts.
"First, an end to the uncertainty facing EU nationals living and working in the UK. Stopping the ugly spike in abuse and violence is imperative. So, too, is a clear and unequivocal reaffirmation of the long-term residence rights of EU citizens currently working in the UK – both because it is the fair thing to do and because their skills are crucial to the success of our businesses, both now and into the future.
"Second, action to progress long-planned infrastructure projects. Last week's delay to a decision on airport expansion must not set the tone for other critical housing road, rail, energy and digital schemes, whether regional or national in scope. It is vital that these investments continue, given their outsized impact on jobs, regional growth and prosperity.
"Addressing these key issues would be a shot in the arm for business confidence and send the right signals across the world. This may be a time for calm reflection, but it is not a time for inaction."
A government spokesman said, "As the prime minister has made clear, it is very important that the voice of business is heard over the coming months. The PM chaired a meeting of his Business Advisory Group last week to engage immediately following the referendum result and he has established new structures for Whitehall to co-ordinate business input over the period ahead."
However, the post-Brexit nervousness among EU employees was reflected in comments by Prof Jane Dacre, president of the Royal College of Physicians, who said there was anecdotal evidence of doctors from the EU turning down jobs in Britain because of the referendum outcome.
Some five per cent of the National Health Service workforce are from EU countries, including nine per cent of doctors and seven per cent of nurses.
Prof Dacre said, "There is a lot of chatter about around EU doctors that feel uncomfortable continuing to be here and are not applying for posts in the UK.
"In relation the medical workforce, this is on top of a history of increasing number of trainee doctors applying to go and work in other countries, particularly in Australia. So this adds to the concern that there has been over the last six months."
Saffron Cordery, director of policy and strategy at the NHS Providers organisation, said, "We have heard of emails from our member organisations asking us if any other trusts have been in the situation of having people they had specifically recruited now deciding not to come."
Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, added, "On the EU workforce that is already here, there is concern amongst that workforce as to what will happen after Article 50 is triggered and what happens two years on. People are planning their futures and thinking about where they want to be in two years' time and three years' time and they won't wait to find out.
"There was an immediate move by (Health Secretary) Jeremy Hunt to issue a letter talking about how valued (EU staff) are and that was good but we need to move on from just telling people that they are valued to giving them some security that they will have some legal safety to remain in this country. Otherwise, what we could see is a lot of people who are already here who will actually leave."
Read analysis of what the vote to leave the EU may mean for for the global mobility industry in Brexit is a reality – a new era for global mobility? by Relocate Global's managing editor, Fiona Murchie.
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