Small British Businesses Brace for Skills Shortages After Brexit

(Bloomberg) -- It’s not just the big banks that are worried: small businesses are starting to fret about who they’ll employ once the U.K. leaves the European Union.

The majority of small British firms are worried about finding people with the right skills after Brexit, according to the Federation of Small Businesses. A fifth of them currently have EU staff, and if Brexit creates barriers to recruiting EU citizens, some would consider moving abroad or reducing operations, the FSB said in a report.

Prime Minister Theresa May plans to take the U.K. out of the single market to restrict immigration, though no agreement has been reached on protecting the rights of the millions of EU natives currently living in Britain. Limiting migration could exacerbate the skills gaps already facing the economy, and without reaching a deal on EU citizens’ rights, businesses could face a “sudden cliff-edge preventing small firms from accessing the workers they need,” the FSB’s chairman Mike Cherry said.

The FSB said the government should guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the workforce, and then implement transitional arrangements and phase in any new immigration system.

The EU’s latest negotiation draft strengthened proposals to protect the rights of EU citizens in the U.K., and vice-versa, when Britain leaves the bloc.

“There is a real concern among small firms with EU staff that they will lose access to the skills and labor their business needs to survive and grow,” Mike Cherry said. “EU workers are a vital part of our economy.”