Employers Say Severe Labor Shortages Coming With Brexit

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

Britain's upcoming departure from the European Union's (EU) customs union and single market at the end of this year does not just mean goods and services will no longer flow freely between the British isles and mainland Europe, it also means people and labor will no longer flow freely.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government has now unveiled their plans for labor and immigration and British employers are warning that it could be a disaster.

Johnson's plan calls for closing the door to "unskilled labor," but the term "unskilled" will be applied to anyone making less than a certain amount of money each year and won't necessarily reflect someone's actual skill set.

Employers say they're going to face severe labor shortages without those so-called "unskilled" workers.

Farms, food factories and care homes said Wednesday that they will face severe labor shortages under the government’s plans to open Britain to skilled and educated immigrants while shutting out those its deems “low-skilled” workers.

The message from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government was blunt: “Employers will need to adjust.”

We need to shift the focus of our economy away from a reliance on cheap labor from Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation,” the government said in a paper laying out its immigration plans.

"Cheap labor from Europe" is a bizarre string of words, isn't it? As if French citizens have somehow lowered the labor standards of Britain.

The Johnson government's policy will define anyone who makes less than 25,600 pounds ($33,000) a year as "unskilled" and the problem is that a significant number of jobs across many industries afford starting salaries that are lower than that even for British citizens.

Some businesses will be able to adjust to offering that amount of pay because they will have no other choice. Others will go out of business or they'll turn to "technology and automation," as the Johnson government recommends, which means the jobs will disappear entirely as they're offloaded to robots and artificial intelligence rather than dirty "unskilled" humans.

It's remarkable how much British and American immigration policy and the accompanying rhetoric now mirror each other. The British version is just slightly less naked, but both are based on racism rather than empirical economic reality.

  • mnpollio

    If the intrusion of reality brings the hammer down on Britain over Johnson and the Brexit lunacy and they pay a huge price, so be it. I have absolutely no sympathy for their stupidity and willful ignorance any more than I tolerate here in the US. British citizens had several opportunities to correct or halt this lunacy and continued to march full on into the void, so they can reap the fruits of their decisions. And if the fruit is withered and rotten, then they can still have it. Much like too many misguided US citizens searching for a resurrection of a nonexistent idealized past, the British seem to be seeking the re-emergence of the British Empire, which is long lost in the sands of time. I would suggest less salivating over episodes of Downton Abbey, with its misplaced devotion to the aristocracy and people “knowing their place” and asinine sentiment over a time and society that was certainly not great for everyone, and more time spent on pondering the future and what works in the here and now. Reviving the British Empire is a fantasy at best and psychotically delusional and self-destructive at worst.

    • muselet

      I think it’s less a desire to recreate The Empire (cue “Rule Britannia”) and more nostalgia for Fortress Britain with a wee bit of “the wogs begin at Calais” racism thrown in.

      Being a largish but not dominant component of the EU conflicted with Brits’ We Won The War self-image. Combine that with decades of relentless lying from the Eurosceptics—Boris Johnson was particularly blatant in his aversion to truth—and clownshoes like Nigel Farage, and Brexit becomes almost inevitable.

      It’s less ridiculous than recreating the British Empire, but it’s still a spectacular own goal.


  • muselet

    “Employers will need to adjust.”


    I’m fairly certain Boris Johnson’s government is envisioning a Second Industrial Revolution, with displaced workers becoming hedge fund managers or, at the very least, IT technicians. Even by the standards of utopian schemes, this is ridiculous.

    Farmers are early adopters of technology, but there are a lot of tasks people do better. Besides, people—even low-skilled people—are more flexible than machinery. That’s why agriculture everywhere depends on immigrant laborers for the hard, physical work, even if the tractor is equipped with GPS.

    Likewise food processing.

    And I’m sure pensioners in care homes will be absolutely delighted at the prospect of being dressed in the morning by a Dalek.

    Did someone say “robot insurance”?

    Some jobs can be automated, some can’t. The tricky part is learning which is which, and it sounds like the government decided to skip that step entirely.

    (By the way, it’s not the French Johnson’s government is moaning about, it’s Poles. And Bulgarians. And Hungarians. Not that Tories like the French any more than those horrible Eastern Europeans!, but French workers are unlikely to work for a pittance.)


    • Employers aren’t the only people who will need to adjust. So will consumers. A labor shortage may mean reduced productivity, and hirer production costs. Hiring productions costs mean hirer prices, et cetera.

      Wouldn’t surprise me if the UK tries to go crawling back in the near future.