The movement is not intense yet, though it has been noticed that the Polish have been gradually leaving. While it is not, and may not ever become a wave, local businesspeople have sounded the alarm. They are afraid of being left with no labour force and they pick apart the politics pursued by Theresa May, who wants to stop mass immigration to the UK. British entrepreneurs alert: without immigrants, we are going to be put into the streets – our economy is going to suffer.
The Polish have several reasons to leave the UK: the weakening pound, jeopardized rights upon Brexit, and finally the at-times lousy attitudes towards “strangers”, as many of the British call immigrants.
But politicians who have so strongly agitated for Brexit are eventually waking up from their lethargy and are noticing the problems that may be attributed to the dropping numbers of immigrants. Businesses were the first to see through, and have been warning that soon there will a shortage of job seekers, especially in agriculture. And the British can see it themselves, that they are going to lose out due to the Polish exodus. It was not long ago that Michael Gove, the Leave campaign leader, was propagating anti-migrant slogans. Now, he has become a completely different man – he has woken up and started advocating opposite ideas: We must not cut our economy off from the labour force it needs upon Brexit.
Let’s save our economy!
Now it is Gove himself who is signalling to the government to leave the door open for immigrants after Brexit. Why? To protect the British economy. Gove is not an ordinary politician – he is the new environment minister of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Theresa May's post-election reshuffle. And farmers have clearly appealed to his reasoning as regards immigrants.
”No-one wants zero immigration,” says the minister now and warns that this could jeopardise the British economy in this time of trial involved in exiting the European Union. This is why Gove claims that the maintenance of the labour market in terms of immigrants should be one of the most important topics in London’s talks with Brussels.
His words are in line with the opinions of many top politicians of the ruling party, including Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, who admits that the approach towards Brexit should be reconsidered in the light of the results of the recent pre-term parliamentary elections, which were catastrophic for the Conservatives. Today, Hammond acknowledges overtly that the Conservatives did not speak enough and fairly about the economy during the election campaign.
“I reckon – as very many British people probably do– that we should prioritise protection of our labour market in our talks with the EU,” appeals Hammond. Both him, and said Gove, are truly afraid that reduced immigration after Brexit will result in a shortage of labour force in many industries. However, they keep forgetting that it is precisely the immigration issue which prevailed during the memorable Brexit referendum. The British were being intimidated by immigrants. The Conservatives kept repeating that they would reduce annual immigration to the UK to below a hundred thousand.
They do not intimidate any more
Gove, who played a leading role in last-year’s Leave Vote, said that he was afraid of the tension between the protection of jobs and reduced migration. Today, he sees it differently. Politicians did not care to heed the reports which best showed that the United Kingdom needs a lot of immigrants. Many sectors of the British economy will stumble without foreigners, as immigrants from the EU Member States occupy one in nine jobs in the UK.
Not long ago, the British were dissuaded from the open-door policy, feeling threatened by the migrants flooding their country and depriving native Brits of their jobs. But now the anti-EU critics have quietened down. Who can replace Polish or Bulgarian nurses? Who will work in hotels, ensure the tidiness of urban greenery or do farm work?
Steven Woolfe, independent politician, was only recently mouthing off about the uncontrolled inflow of immigrants to the UK. Today he is quiet, or maybe he has finally read enough about the real needs of the British economy. And the truth is that over 11 per cent of the UK labour market is occupied by foreigners. Immigrants are employed mostly in commerce, and in hotel and catering services, accounting for over 760 thousand job holders.
Those people do not deprive local people of jobs, as the British are not at all eager to do this kind of work. A further 770 thousand job holders are employed in the sales of various goods or in cleaning services. Most of them are people from the EU. Eight percent of factory workers come from eight countries that accessed the EU in 2004: Poland, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia and Slovenia.
No Poles – no way
Recently, Steven Woolfe said that to lean on the labour of those people in the long run is unacceptable. Today, he does not say so. In fact, he says nothing. An army of farm, forest and fishery workers grew from the comers form the new UE Member States. Immigrants from the said eight countries account for seven per cent of job holders in these sectors.
One in eight employees in finance or business sectors, a total of nearly 400 thousand people, come from the EU Member States. And finally, there is public administration, education, and healthcare employing 700 thousand people, one fourth of them being EU immigrants. According to Jane Collins of UKIP, which pressed on Brexit and virtually spat on immigrants, it is the strangers who spoil the system of financing people in the UK, as their great numbers permit wage scaling which favours the rich.
Alp Mehmet of Migration Watch UK argues that native businesses should focus on recruiting personnel among the UK’s native people, and only acquire from abroad those with particularly high professional competences.
They tempt immigrants themselves
The situation is evolving dynamically: British employers are not willing to wait for politicians and are tempting Poles and other immigrants with attractive terms of employment. And it is not only about higher wages, but also better social benefits (accommodation), or even spare-time recreation opportunities. British farmers are most alarmed. They have no doubt that they will be short of labour force. They are under no illusions: getting rid of immigrants, putting obstacles in their way or maintaining uncertainty after Brexit is a tragedy for the British labour market. Farmers’ contracts collapse, and their contractors withdraw from cooperation.
And it is all because of the outflow of seasonal workers, mostly immigrants. And you cannot switch to another type of production right away, alerts Neil Vickers, pastor at the Boston Methodist Church, who knows the moods both of the leaving immigrants, and of the local farmers. Farmers know that seasonal labour, which cannot be automated in many respects and which must be done manually, is not going to succeed without immigrants’ contribution. Shamefully, the knowledge is not shared by British politicians. And hence the spontaneous actions taken by farmers who are tempting immigrants with better wages and social terms in order to just keep their businesses afloat.
Farmers participating in their associations’ meetings are voicing sharp criticism against politicians, who seem to be out of touch with the reality. And meanwhile, half of the workers from the European Union have not shown up for the opening of the harvesting season. It will soon be similar in British hospitals, with dropping numbers of nurses.
The same is going to happen in industry, construction and services. A recent Oxford University report shows a visible drop in the number of Poles applying for a National Insurance Number, which is a necessary condition to take up a job in the UK. In the first quarter of 2016 there were 40 thousand applicants, and in the same period this year the number was only 26 thousand, the least since Poland accessed the EU in 2004.
The reasons include the plummeting pound (which has over a year lost 16% in value as compare to zloty), uncertainty as regards immigrant rights following Brexit, and unfavourable attitudes of local people. The British economy needs new workers. It’s growing slowly, in fact its growth is the slowest among all the community states – and it is in these circumstances that it receives the blow in the form of reduced immigrant numbers. London is going to fight with Brussels about immigrants, as May has no intention of withdrawing from her notions to reduce the numbers of ‘strangers’.
And here there is a clash between the interests of local business which needs a labour force, and Brussels, which not going to give up on immigrants. Its argument is the 1.5 million Brits living in its Member States. Brussels makes it clear: after Brexit, immigrants must retain their rights. The Tory party claims that Brussels plays too rough, but the latest elections have shown that the British do not share this opinion any more.