By exiling EU citizens, the UK risks losing the lifeblood of its economy

Gita Petkevica
One Day Without Them Demonstration Takes Place In Westminster
Major UK corporates are heavily reliant on EU nationals for a large proportion of their top talent: 14 per cent of directors at the FTSE 100 are from the EU (Source: Getty)

Last week’s Home Office leak revealed the government’s plans to end the free movement of labour after Brexit, and to deter all but the most highly skilled EU workers.

But make no mistake, bringing the shutters down on free movement is an act of economic self-harm.

It is hard to exaggerate the positive impact of the 2.2m EU migrants – seven per cent of the overall UK workforce – on the growth of the UK economy in the last decade.

Read more: Leaked Home Office immigration proposals for after Brexit spark criticism

Taking our biggest companies, our own research suggests major UK corporates are heavily reliant on EU nationals for a large proportion of their top talent: 14 per cent of directors at the FTSE 100 are from the EU.

Those individuals have played a key role in driving success, attracted here by Britain’s positive attitude towards business and multiculturalism, and bringing with them a diverse mix of expertise which has helped propel UK businesses onto the global stage.

SMEs too benefit from EU citizens’ entrepreneurial drive. Those with an EU national as a director have grown a third faster than the average British small or medium-sized business over the last five years.

Levels of entrepreneurialism tend to be proportionately higher among European citizens living here than they are among the British. For example 4.9 per cent of Swedes in the UK are SME directors, versus 1.9 per cent of British citizens.

What about tax – do they pay their way? In a word: yes.

According to a 2016 study by University College London, immigrants who arrived from the EU after 2000 contributed £1.34 to the UK economy for every £1 they took out.

Our research also shows that Europeans in the UK contribute more in income taxes than Wales and Northern Ireland combined.

Not only does this challenge the idea that European migrants are here to claim benefits and tax credit (so-called “benefit tourism”), but it also demonstrates the very real risks of a hard Brexit to the British economy.

EU nationals are taking an increasingly active role in providing “front-line” public services. They are, for example, filling skills gaps in the NHS, where 12 per cent of all medical staff are Europeans and six per cent of nurses are EU nationals.

These are exactly the kind of skills that Britain’s already stretched public services stand to lose should Brexit result in stricter immigration policies. Far from being a drain on the UK, EU nationals bring significant benefits to all who live here.

The UK is an international destination of choice for talented people and businesses, but there’s no doubt that current uncertainty is making the climate more challenging. This attitude, as one opposition MP said, “is not only economically illiterate, it’s plainly cruel too”.

This week, I will address The Three Million group, which represents EU citizens living in the UK, at a lobby held outside parliament. The vast majority of European migrants come to the UK to work, and are a highly productive and valuable part of the UK economy. The vast majority also feel simply unwelcome.

We read about the importance and the value of diversity for business success every day, but it is possible that Brexit could be about to throw away one of the UK’s biggest diversity cards: its EU citizens.

What a lot Britain stands to lose.

Read more: British statistics bosses slam Home Office migration data leaks

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

Related articles