The future ability of UK workers, and businesses, to operate unimpeded throughout the EU has been a cause of major concern since the Brexit vote in June.
To think that the country could abandon a guaranteed source of free moving trade and labour, with no plan to protect companies from the negative impact of such a move, is deeply worrying, particularly for small businesses that operate within the Union.
That’s why the EU Parliament’s chief negotiator’s plans to allow UK citizens to opt in to “associate citizenship” of the European Union are so important.
The plans, which are being fast-tracked by Guy Verhofstadt ahead of the triggering of Article 50, are vital to safeguarding the rights of UK workers and businesses to continue trading with EU partners.
As the owner of a small but growing business, with clients in seven European countries, this is an essential offer that should certainly be accepted during the official negotiations.
Knowing workers would be able to move freely between countries – particularly in the short-term before we sign trade deals away from the EU – would make it easier for companies to do business, and remove a lot of concern about the unknown.
It could also make it more likely that businesses with stalled growth plans will put them back in motion, and ensure the UK economy doesn’t stagnate during the early post-Brexit years.
But “associate citizenship” opens up potential for new employee benefits, and could be a great recruitment tool for UK businesses.
For many of my team, EU membership is a great benefit because a European passport makes travelling and holidaying around Europe so much easier, and is something they greatly value.
With this in mind I have already pledged to fund their associate membership up to £1,000.
Being able to experience the rest of the EU without restriction is also a benefit for exposing staff to new cultures and inevitably helps them develop as workers, and people.
There could even be other rights linked to this proposal, such as healthcare, if it is taken further.
We have to wait until negotiations get underway, but this is one element that UK businesses will be keeping a keen eye on, let’s just hope it gets past the proposal stage.
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