Brexit trade deal must include access to vital EU workers, trade groups say

The UK’s new government must reach a comprehensive trade deal that includes access to EU workers if a “vibrant and robust economy” is to be achieved, two major business groups have warned.

The calls come amid reports that the Conservatives will include a controversial target to reduce immigration to the “tens of thousands” in their election manifesto.

Manufacturers’ group EEF said whoever gains power on June 8 needs to retain access to the single market and ensure that employers can access skilled workers as part of a wider industrial strategy.

“As we prepare to navigate what will inevitably be choppy Brexit waters, a clear commitment to an industrial strategy will give business confidence that the government is capable of looking long-term at strengthening some of the fundamental levers of our economy,” said EEF chief executive, Terry Scuoler.

“Walking away without a deal would throw a significant spanner into any effort to build a vibrant and productive economy. A robust and growing industry will be the hallmark of a successful Brexit negotiation.”

Meanwhile the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which has said that no trade deal would open a “Pandora’s Box“, warned that EU workers are vital to UK businesses.

The UK needs an immigration system “based on need” that gives a “preferential approach to the EU”, rather than the Tories “tens of thousands” target, CBI director general, Carolyn Fairbairn told the Telegraph.

“Just as businesses’ physical supply chains are integrated into the EU economy as they buy and sell raw materials, parts and finished goods to and from the continent, they also send workers to and fro across the Channel, and it would be a serious blow if that flexibility is lost,” Fairbairn said.

“We have a much much higher degree of integration of our businesses within Europe than we do in any other part of the world, and [this is about] the ability to move people around quickly onto a construction project or to make a television programme or to work on a legal project. We are a services based-economy and people are our currency.”

She added: “It is about maintaining that ease and flexibility and agility which is so important in today’s economy.”

Unite is calling for freedom of movement safeguards that defend all workers against wage cutting, including ending the exploitation of migrant workers.

The safeguards include stronger collective bargaining rights, so any employer wishing to recruit labour abroad should only be able to do so if they are either covered by a proper trade union agreement or by sectoral collective bargaining.