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Brexit: What does it mean for UK jobs?

PM Theresa May on Tuesday shone a torch into the dark corner of the closet where the Brexit monster has been hiding for the past six months or so. You could say it reared its ugly head but what the rest of it will look like when the closet door is fully opened remains shrouded in darkness.

That's was the general consensus after Mrs. May's speech, some of which had some very fine political sound-bites like: "no deal is better than a bad deal", and Britain did not want to be "half in or half out".

For or against, what almost everyone welcomed was the clarity brought to months of uncertainty in that Mrs May finally outlined Britain's red lines, removing some of the guesswork. Red lines of course are only the starting point in any negotiations. Other uncertainties will now come to the fore over the two-year minimum negotiating period but the spectrum across which business will have to make their contingency plans has at least been narrowed, albeit to one of the worst-case scenarios for the labour market.

The huge implications for British businesses loomed large though Brexit minister David Davis assured that unskilled immigration would still happen. Mrs May said Britain would continue to attract "the brightest and best" through a new immigration policy. Home Secretary Amber Rudd told reporters a work permit regime was an option "but it's not the only way".

But certain sectors were clearly worried. Mark Porter, British Medical Association council chairman said there were 10,000 doctors from the EEA working within the already hard-pressed NHS and he cautioned that any new immigration system would have to be very flexible.

Similarly, the Press Association quoted Dave Smith, chairman of the Institution of Engineering and Technology's innovation panel saying there were still too many unanswered questions for their already-starved sector, which would need an estimated 182,000 new engineers over the next ten years.

There were also some harsher words. The general secretary of the GMB union, Tim Roache, said: "Fantastical speeches and wishful thinking is all well and good, but what does this actually mean for British jobs and industry in the coming years?"

Probably the most succinct comment came from the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, Rob Whiteman, who said Mrs May was playing a game of Russian roulette, "where the prize is not committing economic suicide".

Meanwhile in Brussels, though EU brass welcomed the clarity, they pretty much kept their cards closed. The 'UK is trying to have its cake and eat it' analogy surfaced a few times, while Germany's Chamber of Commerce and Industry as much as said they would write off the UK as an export destination. The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted: "My priority is to get the right deal for EU27".

To be fair, the PM does appear to have taken away some EU leverage by her willingness to abandon the single market, which Brussels may have come to see as a major bargaining chip in negotiating freedom of movement, knowing its importance to the UK. Mrs May’s ‘'nothing to lose' gamble in pledging to walk away if the EU's terms appear punitive, might pay off but only time will tell. 

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