Unless Article 50 is revoked in the coming months, the UK will have left the EU by the end of March 2019, and the full effect of Brexit will be in operation. There are many hopes and fears about what this could entail for pretty much every industry across the UK, with a lot of businesses preparing in the run-up. For the energy sector and its large workforce, including plenty of foreign nationals, this is a big concern.
Impact on the Energy Sector
A lot of research and speculation has been conducted into the potential impact of Brexit on the UK’s energy sector. One of the biggest concerns is that the UK is reliant on external energy imports and cannot meet its own heat and power demands with indigenous supply. With Brexit aiming for much greater levels of sovereignty, depending on what type of deal is arranged, this could see energy prices rocket if there is a greater demand than supply.
There is also a big question over whether the UK would continue to participate in the EU’s internal energy market. With a no deal Brexit, this looks highly unlikely, yet the UK government has previously pushed for developing cross-border energy markets, so it will probably do its best to continue. It’s especially important for Northern Ireland, whose electricity sector is highly integrated with that of the Republic of Ireland.
The Changing Labour Force
According to figures, 5% of workers directly employed by the energy industry are from EU countries, while another 5% are from outside of the EU. This means that 90% of the energy sector’s workforce is from the UK, which would suggest that Brexit’s impact on the overall workforce will be minimal. Of that 10%, the majority would hopefully be able to secure Visas and remain, as they are working professionals.
Yet there are many risks, and it could make recruiting in the future a lot more difficult. Plus, the same research shows that while only 10% are from outside the UK, one in two of the non-UK European workers holds managerial roles that are critical for projects. Depending on the requirements to stay and work in the UK, many energy companies could see a rise in using an immigration lawyer and the costs that go with it, to make sure some of their best workers are not lost. Otherwise, the UK’s energy sector workforce could soon diminish.
Limits of Free Movement
The main issue for most industries and businesses worried about their workforces is the potential restrictions of free movement after Brexit. For BP, one of the UK’s leading energy companies for whom 5.8% of their workforce are EEA nationals, the consequence of limiting free movement could be costly.
It would limit their ability to respond quickly to opportunities within Europe. Introducing the need for a Visa or work permit for EEA nationals in the UK and vice versa slows proceedings down and can hold up projects, such as emergency repairs to refinery plants and more. Plus, it will narrow down the recruitment market significantly, making the whole process take a lot longer and become less efficient.
Whatever the outcome of Brexit, it looks likely to weaken the UK’s energy sector unless the likes of free movement remain.