Some of Britain's biggest infrastructure projects could face serious delays as a result of Brexit, the country's top engineers have warned.
The engineering industry, which contributes £280bn to the economy, has said that a restriction on access to skills could delay the building of major infrastructure projects such as HS2 and Hinkley Point C power station, which was given the green light just weeks ago after months of wrangling.
Brexit could also push up the costs of the already high-price projects if demand for skilled engineers outstrips supply.
The Royal Academy of Engineers is calling on the government to guarantee access to the much-needed skills in a new report, published in the wake of Prime Minister Theresa May's move towards a so-called hard Brexit, which would include a crackdown on immigration.
While the group, which represents nearly half a million engineers in the UK, welcomed a renewed focus on the UK's industrial strategy, it warned that access to skills, as well as research and funding, could jeopardise the UK's global competitiveness.
Engineering businesses account for half of all exports and employ 5.5m people in the UK .
Engineers are calling for the vocation to be added to the government's shortage occupation list, an index of jobs for which recruitment can be made from outside the UK. Temporary visas should be granted to those from EU countries to plug the skills gap and procedures for moving staff across borders within a business should be extended.
“Engineering makes an enormous contribution to economic and social progress in the UK, and we have heard from a significant cross-section of the engineering profession that leaving the EU poses a real challenge to this contribution," said Professor Dame Ann Dowling, president of the Royal Academy of Engineers.
“For many we have consulted over the last two months, plans to trigger Article 50 raise questions about our ability to train enough skilled engineers to meet the country’s needs, to attract the brightest and best international talent to the UK to address specific skills shortages, and to collaborate with colleagues in non-UK European Union countries in a way that accelerates innovation that is of value to wider society."
The group also warned that the UK risked losing its reputation as a leading centre for innovation without the access to research collaboration and funding from the EU. Academics in the UK have already reported troubles with joint projects.