In May, I gave a speech in this place calling on the Government to put aside their differences and their rigid ideologies, overcome their stubbornness and focus on what matters: a deal that works for people, families and businesses in the west midlands and across the country. It is clear that what this Government have put in front of us does not do that. This deal presents a threat to the three universities in my constituency; across the west midlands, we attract more than 8,000 students from the EU each year and employ about 5,000 academics who are EU citizens. The universities in my constituency are concerned about the impacts of this deal. What does it do to their ability to attract students and staff, and to their continued ability to collaborate with other institutions in Europe? This deal does not answer those questions.
Having spoken about those universities, I am pleased to reference the report ‘The NHS and Health Law Post Brexit’, written by the academic group The UK in a Changing Europe’, which includes researchers from the University of Birmingham. The report was launched in Parliament in December 2018. So what does this Brexit deal mean for the NHS? The report raises fears about the likelihood of medicine shortages taking place across the UK and its authors are rightly worried about the lack of a guarantee of continued access to European Union-wide public health networks and vigilance systems which facilitate the protection of patient safety. The Government have not adequately addressed any of those things, and the damaging effect of this deal on the NHS will be felt around the country if it goes through.
According to analysis commissioned by Birmingham City Council’s Brexit commission, one in 10 registered nurses in the west midlands is from the European Union. In a sector that already has a high level of vacancies and a low retention of nursing staff, they fulfil vital roles, working in older adult nursing homes, and providing help and support for some of our most vulnerable citizens. I ask for a guarantee from Ministers that those so called “low skilled” or “unskilled” workers will still be able to come from the EU.
Despite the much delayed White Paper, which finally slipped out just before Christmas, we still have a Cabinet and Government at odds over their future immigration policy. So let me say that blindly following an ideological desire to severely cut EU migration will damage our economy and leave vulnerable industries, already heavily hit with large numbers of vacancies, like social care, even closer to breaking point. Charities and civil society groups have come to me worried about the Government’s intentions of replacing the EU structural and investment funds with a shared prosperity fund. The lack of detail, coupled with indications and rumours about how the funds will be distributed, is worrying, and these vital organisations are hesitant to plan for the medium and long term. This anxiety about the future is also true of these organisations and aid agencies based in the UK but operating abroad. They are already experiencing the impact of the Government’s lack of clarity over Brexit, with currency fluctuations resulting in funding shortfalls for overseas work. There are also serious threats to their future programmes and jobs that this Government have not addressed.
The Greater Birmingham chamber of commerce evidence showed that almost a quarter of west midlands-based businesses export exclusively to the EU. These businesses need continued access to the EU, and this deal does not guarantee this. Meanwhile, small and medium-sized enterprises have already experienced problems as a result of the failure of the Government’s negotiations. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, one in five small businesses employs someone from the EU and seven in 10 small employers rely on mid or low-skilled staff, so there is a real danger of Brexit making the current skills gap much worse. These SMEs do not trust this Government to get it right; according to the research done by Ed Balls and Peter Sands, they are
“deeply dissatisfied that this was the choice they were being offered”.
That is because the deal does not
“provide the detail, certainty, and guaranteed future proximity to the EU that most businesses want.”
Just last week, we witnessed the negative effect that the Government’s mishandling of Brexit is having on businesses in the west midlands, with Jaguar Land Rover’s announcement that further job cuts are expected. It cites post-Brexit uncertainty and a lack of clarity as one of the reasons for these proposed redundancies. This is a serious concern for many of my constituents who are employed by Jaguar Land Rover and also for the region as a whole.