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Saturday, Dec 14, 2019

What’s in store for Indian techies post-Brexit. Theresa May explains

Seamless immigration from within the EU was one of the key reasons for the “Leave EU” vote in the 2016 referendum.

world Updated: Nov 20, 2018 13:10 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers her keynote address on the final day of at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Britain, October 3, 2018.
British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers her keynote address on the final day of at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Britain, October 3, 2018. (Reuters file photo)

A challenge to her leadership looms, but Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday dwelt on the emotive issue of immigration to sell her controversial draft agreement, suggesting “software developers from Delhi” would be preferred over EU citizens after Brexit.

The required number of 48 Conservative MPs to trigger a leadership contest has not yet been reached, but her party lawmakers continued to make their positions known, with hardline Brexiteer Boris Johnson insisting the draft agreement is a “585-page fig leaf (that) does nothing to cover the embarrassment of our total defeat”.

Indian and British companies continue to monitor the Brexit imbroglio closely. There are already reports of delayed or curtailed investment in the UK and staff-and-office moves to EU cities such as Paris and Frankfurt to enable companies to continue to operate across the European Union.

Seamless immigration from within the EU was one of the key reasons for the ‘Leave EU’ vote in the 2016 referendum. May expounded on the issue in her address to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), noting she had an “intense week” ahead.

Also read | The Brexit mess in the UK just got messier

After Brexit, May said, “London will regain full control of the UK’s borders, enabling it to set its preferred immigration policy. The focus will be on skilled migration, rather than low-skilled, a proposition not entirely welcomed by businesses struggling to find British employees for roles in the restaurant and other industries. “

May said: “It will no longer be the case that EU nationals, regardless of the skills or experience they have to offer, can jump the queue ahead of engineers from Sydney or software developers from Delhi.

“Instead of a system based on where a person is from, we will have one that is built around the talents and skills a person has to offer. Not only will this deliver on the verdict of the referendum, it should lead to greater opportunity for young people in this country to access training and skilled employment.”

A period of prolonged uncertainty looms for businesses, as reflected in comments by Scotland first minister Nicola Sturgeon and Liberal Democrats leader Vince Cable. Sturgeon told business leaders long-term uncertainty is “hard wired” into the current Brexit deal.

Cable added: “(For) the foreseeable future there’s complete uncertainty about our long-term relationships. It just means that this cloud of uncertainty hangs over British business for the foreseeable future.”

Pratik Dattani of the Economic Policy Group, reflecting current thinking in Indian companies in the UK, said: “Theresa May has said Eastern European will no longer be prioritised over skilled workers from other countries, citing India as the prime example. At the same time, accessing workers of lower skill levels will be difficult for UK businesses, and the visa process will overall get more expensive.

Also read | You do the math: Can Theresa May get her Brexit deal through parliament?

“The current Brexit deal proposed brings more uncertainty as the transition period for agreeing a trade deal will be pushed to 2022. The pound has fallen against the Indian rupee in the last week as a result.”

In Brussels, the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the draft deal reached with the UK is “fair and balanced”, as the bloc haggled with Britain over any extension to the envisaged transition period.

Barnier told a news conference after briefing the 27 EU ministers that they generally approved of the draft agreement reached last week, and that a blank in the document on the end date for a possible extension of the status-quo transition period should be resolved for a summit on Sunday.

“The deal is fair and balanced,” Barnier said. “We are in fact at a decisive moment in this process; no one should lose sight of the progress that has been achieved in Brussels and in London.

“In particular, member states support the draft withdrawal agreement. The EU side will still have to decide the internal process for agreeing to extend the transition period.”

Also read | H-1B uncertainty: Indian techies may soon bypass US for Canadian opportunities