BREXIT: Free movement is essential

There has been a lot of focus on the crucial nature of the customs union to protect manufacturing industries in the UK, especially the North East.

Friday, 16th March 2018, 5:00 am

The problems a hard Brexit with exit from the single market will cause for freelance consultants in the service industry are invisible at the moment.

There are many British freelancers who work for customers in Europe in various industries. The proximity of Newcastle Airport and its many connections to the EU via Amsterdam makes it easy for North East freelancers to travel abroad. The KLM flight on Sunday evening is often full of consultants commuting to projects all over the EEA. Flights are cheaper than rail fares in the UK.

I am an experienced software developer with fluency in several languages. It has taken me over 12 years to build up my network and clients. Many of them are in Germany and The Netherlands.

Unlike application processes for permanent jobs, customers usually need freelance candidates fast, sometimes within days. It would be impossible for them to wait for work permit applications to be processed. Work permits would involve extra costs.

Candidates who cannot offer a fast turnaround or start date go to the bottom of the pile, even when their experience is a perfect match. Remote work is not always possible and some clients require you to be in the office at least four days per week.

Several British freelance colleagues have already expressed the intention to look at the possibilities of moving permanently to Europe to save their livelihoods in cases where the majority of the client base is abroad.

I have British friends in Europe who are applying for Dutch or German citizenship. This is an extreme step, especially if someone still has family ties at home and would not normally make a permanent move.

The European Associate passport would at least offer some safeguard to our incomes, but who knows if this idea will succeed?

There is also uncertainty that a British person in one EU country may lose ‘free movement’ within the EU after Brexit. This could make projects in another country problematic.

It is typical for people in my industry to take a project of several months in one country, then move to another country for the next project, especially when they work in a niche area, such as securities.

I have seen many testimonies from UK freelancers based in Europe and in the UK. Should freedom of movement stop, these people will lose their homes as mortgage repayments will be impossible. The money we earn in Europe will no longer be there. We will no longer have the same financial resources to support families at home, such as elderly relatives, or to spend as much in local shops during home visits.

Voters simply did not realise how vital the single market is for service industries before the referendum.

British freelancers often gain niche skills on projects in the EU which they can deploy on projects back home.

UK projects also depend on the skills of EU freelance specialists, including Government projects. One of my clients was recently forced to recruit Polish specialists due to the skills shortage here. It is not possible to recruit enough experienced consultants in niche areas.

Letters sent to David Davis and co at the Department of Exiting the EU by MPs have seemingly gone unnoticed. The Labour party is not yet offering support for free movement for service industries either.

Under article 7 of the EU Citizen’s Directive, member states are able to control immigration. Any person wishing to reside longer than three months in another member state must have financial resources or an offer of work, plus comprehensive health insurance in order not to be a burden on the member state.

The UK could have and could still apply this directive to control immigration, yet the British Government chose not to do this. We cannot therefore blame the EU for immigration, one of the reasons many voters chose Brexit.

Jayne Hamilton