Leader comment: Some Brexit uncertainty is wholly avoidable

Picture: PAPicture: PA
Picture: PA
For all the UK government's insistence on the positive gains and opportunities of Brexit, Scotland's businesses are struggling with its many uncertainties.

And at least one of these is wholly avoidable: the status of those from EU countries already working and living in Scotland. Any doubt as to their contribution to our economy and our tourism and financial services sectors in particular is dispelled by figures from the economics group 4-consulting put forward to Holyrood’s economy committee this week. EU workers contribute £7.3 billion to Scotland’s economy, prompting concerns over “lost jobs and business” resulting from restricted access to the EU market.

The number of EU workers in Scotland’s tourism and hospitality sector is also set out in stark terms. They comprise almost 9 per cent of the workforce and play a “disproportionate” role. About 42,000 work in the sector, with a further 33,000 in education, the NHS and other public agencies. Scotland’s financial services industry employs about 20,000 EU workers directly and indirectly.

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All told, around one in 20 people in Scotland’s 2.6 million-strong workforce is from other EU countries. And the concerns over their future status arises because the UK government has failed to give clear guidance on their right to stay after Brexit.

Even for many who support Brexit, this ambiguity over the future status of EU nationals working here as a potential negotiating ploy in future talks over the terms of the UK’s departure is retrograde, offensive – and wholly avoidable. It was not, and should never have been, the intention of the Leave campaign to put into question the status of EU nationals working here.

Now there are many legitimate areas of concern over future negotiations with the EU over financial services in particular, though it should be admitted more often than it is, that an EU single market in retail financial services has struggled to emerge. Indeed, many in the financial services sector here have had to fight EU measures that would prejudice the openness and flexibility of financial products and services. Not least of the threats posed were those over the definition and treatment of the investment trust sector which is of particular importance in Scotland. Holyrood must be mindful not to be seen to be handing a carte blanche to Brussels negotiators. Scotland’s attractiveness as a financial services sector owes much more to its reputation – and ability to adapt to changing market preferences – than to the ministrations of Brussels.

That said, it is wholly right that Holyrood should add pressure against any threat to the status of existing EU nationals working here. And that is as true for the tourist and hospitality sector. Ironically, it has much to gain from the recent fall in sterling and the significant competitive edge this has given to Scotland and the UK generally as an attractive destination. Holyrood needs to be focused on ensuring that the status of EU workers here is clarified and protected without delay.