By Jack Walsh
THE UK government must clarify its post-Brexit immigration policy to protect businesses reliant on seasonal staff from the EU, say operators, who labelled the current uncertainty as “hugely concerning”.
The calls come after the UK’s Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, said that EU citizens would be able to remain in the UK after Brexit, even in a ‘no deal’ scenario next March.
While this was welcomed by operators, some have already begun to feel the effects of the uncertainty, having found it more difficult to recruit seasonal workers this summer.
A Highland hotelier who asked not to be named – and who relies on EU workers during peak season – told SLTN that the government’s opaque position on post-Brexit immigration is “hugely concerning” as EU applications “literally dried up this year”.
“It was massive; the change was considerable,” she said.
“The agents were saying, in truth, Brexit is already having an effect. I live in a very small place, so I can’t really employ all of my team locally.”
Similarly, Joanna Wyke, co-owner of the Melvich Hotel in Thurso, also faces issues recruiting seasonal staff.
The hotel currently employs three students from the Czech Republic and Wyke is concerned about potential restrictions that could face EU citizens looking to work in the UK.
“We’ve really benefitted from the programme where we haven’t been able to source staff locally ” she said.
“We’re in a very rural area, there’s not a great employment pool to draw from, and we’re seasonal so it’s hard to get people for just six months; so working students are a lifesaver for us.”
Hannah Spotwood, co-owner of the Bellachroy Hotel on Mull, said any policy change that has the potential to impact staff is “concerning”.
Others believe that, regardless of the final Brexit deal, an agreement on immigration must be made. Linda Mclellan of the Bowmore Hotel on Islay said while it “should have been sorted a long time ago”, the government “can’t afford not to make it work”.
Willie Macleod of UK Hospitality said: “To me the critical things are: we need to see what the Migration Advisory Committee says; we’d want absolute certainty and clarity over the government’s immigration policy; and to be sure there would be no artificial numerical caps put on EU citizens who want to come here.”
While the SBPA welcomed the Brexit secretary’s reassurances, a survey of its members revealed that brewers and pubs employed between 17% to 80% of their workforce from overseas, making future immigration policy “one of the key issues for the industry in the Brexit negotiations”.
However, Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin said: “No sensible person is saying all EU immigration should end, so doomsday talk on this subject is absurd.”