A Labour MP says some of her constituents are so worried about Brexit they are “literally crying themselves to sleep”.
Chi Onwurah claims the government’s failure to set out a proper plan for the UK’s exit from the EU has left both people and businesses in her Newcastle constituency facing huge uncertainty.
The former shadow business minister has submitted Parliamentary questions on what action Theresa May’s cabinet will take to make sure Britain retains and attracts skilled workers and reassure EU citizens living in the UK on their future security.
Responding, former immigration minister Robert Goodwill said Britain would remain “an open and tolerant country; one that recognises the valuable contribution migrants make to our society and welcomes those with the skills and expertise to make our nation better”.
But Onwurah told HuffPost UK: “I have constituents who are literally crying themselves to sleep at night because they do not know whether they will have same right as the kids in five years’ time. These mealy-mouthed assurances are no help to them whatsoever.
“The government response is wholly inadequate and shows no understanding both of the personal circumstances of individuals and the structural and ongoing needs of our industry.”
Experts and politicians have raised concerns about the UK’s ability to continue to perform highly across a variety of employment sectors, including aerospace - which is currently worth about £31bn a year.
Manufacturing giants BAE Systems and Airbus backed Remain during last year’s referendum campaign and a looming skills shortage could see the industry struggle to hit the target on the 27,000 new aircrafts worth £3.7 trillion that are set for delivery by 2030.
Chris Fine, engineering branch manager at recruitment specialist Randstad, said: “The challenge now is to get more engineers into the aerospace industry and to continue the growth we have seen in recent years that has made Britain the second largest aerospace sector in the world.”
But new Labour MP Darren Jones, a supporter of the Open Britain campaign to keep the UK in the single market, said the government’s plan for “hard Brexit” was putting the sector at risk.
“When 92 per cent of British aerospace companies export to the European Union, it is clear that any new barriers to that trade will damage the sector and put jobs at risk,” he added.
“Leaving the single market will undoubtedly erect trade barriers, in the form of tariffs, new red tape, and customs checks. It is vital that single market and Customs Union membership are put back on the table in the Brexit negotiations.
“Brexit cannot be allowed to damage the UK aerospace industry, on which so many jobs rely.”
Onwurah said the picture is similar across all highly-skilled industries.
“Newcastle for example has two great universities and a number of high-skilled companies, who do not want to be seen to be making a fuss, but from speaking to them I know the uncertainty is not only driving people away, but it is putting them off coming here,” she added.
“On a global level we are in competition to attract highly-skilled people. That helps us train and build our own highly-skilled workforce. The government needs to wake up to the fact that these skills are at a premium and our industrial future depends on it. They need to offer something better - at the moment all we have is lots of hope and no policies.”