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Brexit, business and migration: a study in complexity

If you’re a political commentator, Brexit is the gift that keeps giving. Column inches can be filled relatively easily with speculation on the nature of Brexit, the impact on the economy, how it will affect the upcoming election and even the exact discussions at Theresa May’s alleged “dinner party from hell” with Jean-Claude Juncker. Often, the relative lack of clear evidence and data around many of these issues only adds to the conjecture and supposition in the media and in public discussion, making it difficult to examine issues in the depth that they deserve.

Equally important is that businesses, government and other organisations cannot simply sit quietly and await the outcome of Brexit discussions. Long-term strategies need to be fine-tuned or amended, plans developed and implemented and contingencies taken into account. As a result, key stakeholders are faced with one of Donald Rumsfeld’s classic “known unknowns” – they know Brexit will have an impact but they do not know exactly what type of impact, when, where and how.
 
This is particularly true with regards to the politically sensitive topic of immigration and EU migrant workers. Certain sectors, such as agriculture and manufacturing, have a relatively high proportion of migrant workers and there are clear and realistic concerns as to the potential impact of Brexit on their future. On the one hand, it may be that Brexit makes little practical difference but, on the other, it could result in significant labour or skills shortages. The knock-on effects of the latter through local economies (and wider) could be substantial and definitely cannot be ignored.
 
Consequently, there is a need not just for a theoretical understanding of the background and nature of these potential changes, but for intensely practical work to ensure decisions can be taken and implemented based on clear information. With this being high on the agenda in a number of organisations, Ecorys has recently been commissioned to undertake research in a number of Local Enterprise Partnership areas to provide definitive insight to help assist in the development of an evidence-based business support offer.
 
This research is not straightforward. Over the next couple of months we’ll be doing desk research and looking to speak to a wide range of businesses, recruitment agencies and migrants themselves to understand the issue in more detail. Are skills or labour shortages actually likely to increase and, if so, where? Can shortages be filled using existing ‘local’ labour? What steps are currently being put in place by businesses and what support might they need in future? What are the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors affecting migrants themselves?
 
All these questions are not only particularly vital but also require a carefully considered methodology in order to facilitate genuinely useful findings. This is particularly the case given the complexity of the issues involved and the fact that it is not clear exactly how Brexit will affect EU migrant workers. Luckily, at Ecorys we have considerable experience in examining these issues, having conducted a number of studies on EU migrants looking at issues such as their integration into host nations, how to make the most of migrant labour and skills and even assessing how sports programmes and projects can be used to link migrants to economic and social support mechanisms. This experience, together with our methodological expertise and policy knowledge, gives us the ability to examine this complex issue in real depth.
 
We’re delighted to be undertaking this research at Ecorys, not just because this subject is one that we’re especially interested in, but because we recognise that this is exactly the type of area where sensibly constructed research can help make a real practical difference. In these uncertain times, this is an exciting and positive opportunity.
 
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