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While recruiters now have clarity over a definite timeline for Brexit, questions and concerns remain over government’s negotiating strategy and what this means for the industry, recruitment trade bodies have warned.

At the weekend Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed that Article 50, the process for starting the process for the UK’s exit from the European Union, would be triggered in the first quarter of next year.

While recruiters now have a definite timeline for Brexit, recruitment trade bodies warn the complex nature of impending negotiations with the EU means questions still remain over how the industry will be affected once a deal is struck.

Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) chief executive Kevin Green released a statement that UK industry needs clarity about the country’s future relationship with Europe but added this new relationship was going to be a “difficult and complex” process.

“Regulations agreed across the EU will still apply in the UK for at least two years after Article 50 is triggered. But it is understandable that businesses and recruiters may be more cautious in their outlook if the future business environment is unclear, which could have a negative impact on investment, employment and wages.

“What we want from the government as soon as possible is a clear steer on their priorities, and our members also want clear directives from the government about the status of EU nationals currently working in the UK and British people working in Europe. The clearer the government can be about their plans, the better.”

Meanwhile, Samantha Hurley, operations director at the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), said that while the UK now has a definite timeline for Brexit it is difficult to predict what Brexit will actually end up looking like.

“The EU has made it very clear that they will not start any negotiation talks until Article 50 has been invoked and so any predictions would be merely conjecture.

“We will be lobbying government hard to remind them just how important the UK flexible market is to the economy but it will be difficult for the government to make any hard and fast promises at this stage, as they will obviously not want to show their hand before official negotiations start. That would be a bit like phoning up a car dealership in advance and telling them what your initial negotiating stance is – and then what you are actually willing to accept!”

And while the PM has removed any doubt that the UK is poised to leave the EU, concerns remain for recruiters as to how or if at all they will be able to access the single market, says Adrian Marlowe, chairman of the Association of Recruitment Consultancies (ARC).

“Our recruitment members, and indeed I suspect all recruiters, will be thinking about access to the single market and above all the free movement of labour,” Marlowe told. “Also UK hirers will be wondering how they will fill the jobs they currently fill by using EU member workers after Brexit finally occurs. In the industrial sector, for example, some current labour forces comprise up to 70% of EU workers (non UK), the NHS is heavily dependent upon EU workers, and this applies in a range of other sectors.

“Recruiters will also be worried about any business that decides to relocate its workforce outside of the UK. That would mean lost jobs, unless we have a plan to replace them.”

But Marlow concedes recruiters cannot expect the government to have all the answers so soon or disclose their negotiating stance. 

“Some recruiters may be worried that what appears to be a hard Brexit stance by Theresa May runs the risk of causing an irrevocable breach of relations which could leave us shorthanded as a nation. However, we must trust in those representing us as this factor will be well recognised, and surely the decision to exercise Article 50 so quickly is pursuant to a broader effective plan.”

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