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James Heappey MP, chair of the APPG for Events, on Brexit

James Heappey MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Events, addresses the event industry’s Brexit concerns. 

The Brexit debate has reached fever pitch and I’m not sure that anyone is really enjoying it beyond those few politicians and journalists for whom this defines their politics. My constituents tell me that they’re sick of it. Many of them oppose the deal that the Prime Minister has brought forward but that is not the majority position. The majority just want Brexit done and for politicians to get back to talking about the stuff that really matters to them.

Business, of course, looks at all this more dispassionately and simply wants to understand what risks Brexit might bring, and what opportunities, so that they can go to work on mitigating the former and exploiting the latter. The reality, however, is that it is impossible right now to give business the certainty it craves. Absolutely every version of Brexit is on the table at the moment and many of my colleagues in Parliament are working hard to make sure that remains the case. In board rooms around the country businesspeople will be screaming in frustration but we cannot take no deal off the table at this point in the negotiations – deep down every business person knows that that must be the case as it is essential leverage in the remaining negotiations. Equally, those in Parliament who oppose Brexit will be equally loath to accept that no Brexit shouldn’t be on the table because they passionately believe that we shouldn’t be leaving at all.

The Government has sought to navigate a more moderate path but has been met by the combined armies of those who want something more radical. I wasn’t the only MP to note that when Jacob Rees-Mogg and Chuka Umunna are both in the same voting lobby opposing the Prime Minister’s deal, they cannot both end up getting what they want. I continue to hope that they will see that this somewhat kamikaze ‘all or nothing’ approach is guaranteed to end in disaster for half of them, even if it ends in absolute triumph for the rest.

So whilst I can’t wave the certainty wand there are, perhaps, some useful things that have been announced by the Government that will help the events industry to address one of the concerns that you’ve raised with me most often; workforce.

The Government’s new immigration policy has recognised that the hospitality, leisure and tourism sectors rely on a dynamic labour market to be able to meet short-term staffing needs. Provision has been made to ensure that our visa system and preferential terms for EU citizens will allow us to continue to meet that demand after Brexit. Inevitably there will be a little more friction as we get to grips with a new system but the Bill, in providing the legal framework for our future immigration system, will ensure the UK continues to flourish outside the EU. For the events industry some adjustment will be needed but I’m confident that the Immigration Bill seeks to achieve the right things and recognises the needs of business.

The Government has made clear its belief that there should be flexibility for short-term workers with a temporary visa route open to workers at any skill level. Consultations are currently underway but include many positive proposals, such as plans to lower the qualification requirement for ‘tier 2’ visas to include ‘intermediate skilled’ jobs as well as plans to extend the youth mobility scheme visa currently open to those aged 18-30 in countries including Australia and Canada. This will give employers and businesses the reassurance that they can access the skills and talent they need whilst ensuring that immigration is considered alongside investment to improve the productivity and skills of the UK workforce.

I could go on to write about supply chains and market access but the reality is that this is at the very nub of the Brexit debate in Parliament. The Prime Minister’s deal ensures both which is why business has been so supportive. However Parliament has rejected that deal and has not yet found any common ground around which to now coalesce.

I have no doubt that you’ll collectively find this very frustrating but, bluntly, there is no way of avoiding the uncertainty. Parliament must do its thing; work out what it wants to do and then we can all go forward with certainty. As feverish as the debate is now, I’m afraid there’s still much more to come.