I’m afraid that this is a “how long is a piece of string” blog, but I believe that it is important to consider the potential impact on the movement of talent across Europe if the UK votes for a Brexit on June 23rd.
There are 2.2 million British nationals living across the EU, but surprisingly that number is comparable to the recent estimate of 2.7m EU nationals living in the UK.
Both groups will be equally concerned about the impact of a potential Brexit, and while there is absolutely no clarity about the ramifications of any potential exit, it is clear that freedom of movement will be a key battleground should the UK leave.
The “Vote Leave” campaigners are keen to regain control of spiralling net migration figures, but it could be the case that hundreds of thousands of vital EU workers leave our shores, only for British benefits claimants abroad to come back home and start claiming here. Did you know that a Brit in France can receive up to three times more unemployment benefit than a jobless French national in the UK?
The benefits question should be the least of our worries.
If it suddenly becomes much more difficult for 2.2m Britons to live and work in the EU, a fair majority would be likely to flood back, en masse to the UK. Would they necessarily replace the EU citizens who might want to (or be forced to) leave as they quit for a friendlier climate back home? Probably not.
The British service sector has led Britain out of the recession, and it is exactly this sector that is heavily supported by relatively cheap labour from abroad. Much is written about the foreign bankers in the square mile, but the true backbone of our current economy is the likes of the internet-shopping warehouse workers. It is unlikely that any returning Brits from Spain would be keen to get involved in this activity after their years sunning themselves on the Costa Del Sol.
On the other hand, there is a minority of EU nationals working in London in key positions in finance and commerce, who have a disproportionate influence on the performance of their respective companies. If life were made difficult for them, and thousands of them were to leave, this would create a talent shortage that could be impossible to plug.
You might sense that I am feeling around in the dark on this question. That is exactly the danger that this referendum poses. At the moment, thousands of Britons abroad are urgently seeking citizenship in the countries in which they reside. Thousands of foreign nationals who have settled with their families in the UK wonder about what the future might hold.
No one knows, and that uncertainty could continue for the next few years.
Job security is vital for individuals and families, and even an unsubstantiated threat to that job security could cause human capital issues in the UK and abroad. No one knows what the impact of a vote to leave could be, but you can be sure that it will mean some significant opportunities and challenges for the recruitment industry.
I’d be interested to hear what you think.