‘APPALLING timing’, recruitment difficulties, ‘no positives’ and a ‘limited’ impact on the finance industry – representatives of key sectors in the Island have reflected on the impact of Brexit three years on.
Hospitality, retail and farming leaders all highlighted that Brexit had delivered more challenges than opportunities for the Island. They said it had created ‘more red tape’ and meant fewer European employees staying to work in Jersey.
Potato-export firm Albert Bartlett have said they are looking further afield following difficulties in recruiting from Eastern Europe.
However, the financial sector indicated that there had actually been an increase in fund managers looking to come to the Island as the ‘gateway’ to Europe, while Brexit’s impact on immigration also placed a renewed emphasis on ‘nurturing’ a local workforce.
Here leaders from some of Jersey’s biggest industries share their thoughts on Brexit and its impact on the Island.
Hospitality Association chief executive officer Marcus Calvani said the impact of Brexit had been overshadowed by the impact of the pandemic, given the close proximity between the two events, with the first Covid cases being recorded in the Island in March 2020.
But the Island was still living with Brexit, he stressed.
Mr Calvani said: ‘It’s harder to gauge the impact of Brexit because we were all hit at the same time by the Covid pandemic. For months no one was allowed to travel and a lot of our seasonal workers returned to their home countries.
But he said: ‘Once the restrictions began to be lifted, it was obvious that a substantial proportion of those who would normally come here from the EU to work didn’t come back and that’s caused much higher costs for businesses who had to look further afield for seasonal staff.
‘We are still living with that now, but we are hopeful that the work we have been doing with the government to relax some of the restrictions on employing seasonal workers continues and it becomes more cost-effective for businesses to recruit from outside the Island and accommodate those workers.’
He said that the industry had worked to update healthcare laws, ‘so that migrant workers who pay into our social security system get something back’, and that they were currently working on new permit laws ‘that meet the needs of our members’.
‘There are some positive steps being taken. We have also just launched the second year of the Antigua and Barbuda partnership and will be welcoming double the number of hospitality professionals from the Caribbean as we did last year,’ he said.
As the sector looks further afield for employees to plug Brexit gaps, in 2022 around 50 staff were brought over from these Caribbean jurisdictions to help address ongoing staff shortages. Under the agreement between Jersey and Antigua and Barbuda, workers will be able to return to the Island from April to September.
Mr Calvani added: ‘Whatever your views are on the UK’s relationship with the EU, the timing of Brexit was appalling. It is extremely hard to be positive about the impact of Brexit on hospitality when the only thing that businesses can see is no end in sight to the rising costs.
‘For an island that is geographically closer to France than the UK, it was a situation that wasn’t going to present any positives.’
He added: ‘It’s a shame that we, as an independent island were not able to act faster and carve ourselves out a unique relationship with the north and the south to find some positives in the situation. Exports to the south have taken an enormous hit and trade routes from France to Jersey have also been incredibly negatively impacted.
‘We must continue to work with our government to now find ways to welcome back our European visitors, especially the day-trippers, rebuild our relationships with European suppliers and find solutions to increase our supply chain from the south.’
Last week, Manche département president Jean Morin told French media that unless post-Brexit border controls in Jersey were changed to make it easier for passengers without passports to travel, local authorities would stop funding the Manche Iles Express ferry service to Jersey.
With many French tourists not having passports, relying instead on ID cards, Mr Morin told Ouest France: ‘If the passport requirement is not lifted by then, we will have no choice but not to renew the service contract for 2024-2025.’
Mr Calvani said: ‘As an Island with such a unique and inimitable hospitality offering, we have something very special. These are the assets that we need to focus on when marketing our island to off-Island visitors and are the assets that we need to be proud of as locals. One of these is the fact that we aren’t the UK, and we aren’t the EU. We need to continue to support our government in finding the benefits of this unique scenario, embrace them, find ways to generate growth and shape a sustainable future for our industry.’
External Relations Minister Philip Ozouf has said the government is working hard on a solution, while Home Affairs Minister Helen Miles said ‘securing a mechanism’ to allow French nationals to travel to the Island using identity cards was a ‘key priority’.
According to news website Franceinfo, the number of passengers travelling with the ferry operator has halved since passport requirements were introduced.
Potato exporter Albert Bartlett has said labour shortages were the key consequence of Brexit for the farming industry.
Operations director Tim Ward said: ‘The biggest change was on free movement. It was more difficult to get some of the staff from Eastern European countries with the amount of red tape. To be fair, the government did, and is, helping the industry.’
He added: ‘We need to cast the net far and wide. There has been a mass increase in staff from the Philippines.’
However, the number of Filipino workers arriving in the Island for farm work had been a ‘huge boost’ to the industry, Mr Ward said.
But the process of getting equipment from the EU has stalled, he added.
‘With some of the barriers that come from bringing products in from Europe… it has slowed the whole process down. With the German and Italian markets, if we are looking at machinery coming in, it used to take weeks to arrive and now it takes months.’
Department store owner Gerald Voisin said the vote had brought no positives for his company.
He said: ‘Brexit has been completely negative for us. Shipping goods from Europe is more difficult because of the increased requirement for paperwork and the tariffs that are imposed on goods from Europe that were previously tariff-free has introduced greater complexity and expense. For a few of our suppliers, this has proven too much and they have refused to supply us.’
Mr Voisin explained: ‘The free-trade agreement only covers goods manufactured in the EU or are made substantially from parts made in the EU. In retail, many of our suppliers in the EU have goods manufactured outside of the EU and pay a tariff when they are imported, we then have to pay the tariff again when the goods are imported into the British Isles.
‘In cases where we are unable to obtain a refund from the supplier, these additional tariffs have to be passed on to customers, which retailers in the UK are generally doing.’
He said that ‘a lot of people left Jersey’ after Brexit and during the pandemic.
‘We believe that many of these people have not returned and as a result people are moving out of retail into the finance industry and States departments, for example, education have taken several of our staff as teaching assistants. I understand that the visa requirements for EU citizens that once travelled freely to Jersey is a major deterrent to people coming here to work.’
Jersey’s position as a ‘gateway’ to Europe has led to an increase in fund managers being attracted to positions in the Island’s finance industry, according to Jersey Finance chief executive officer Joe Moynihan.
He said: ‘Jersey has always been outside of the EU for financial services so the direct impact of Brexit on the industry has been relatively limited.
‘In fact, thanks to our strong constitutional ties to the UK and established bilateral agreements with EU member states, which are independent to the arrangements we have with the UK, we are finding fund managers, in particular, are being attracted in ever-increasing numbers to our more flexible and cost-effective proposition for accessing both UK and EU investor capital.’
He added: ‘We’ve seen this in no small part through the up-tick in assets under administration stemming from the US, which have increased by some 230%
in just five years – proof enough of the draw of Jersey as a gateway to
Europe as well as a global centre for cross-border investment.’
But he said: ‘That’s not to say there’s been no impact. We’ve had to amend some legislation to reflect the changing nature of the relationship between the UK and EU, but that has had a very minimal impact on us directly.
‘Perhaps the biggest impact is in the mobility of people and what that means for recruitment. With the skills landscape constantly shifting, it was already a challenge, not just in Jersey but elsewhere too – but the impact Brexit has had on the jobs market has accentuated that, and led us to focus even more on nurturing a skilled sustainable workforce locally.’
Brexit’s most explosive impact on fishing in the Island occurred in May 2021, when tense negotiations over new licensing arrangements boiled over and resulted in fishermen from Brittany and Normandy blockading the Harbour, while two Royal Navy warships were called in by the UK in a story that made global headlines.
Relations have warmed somewhat since then, with French fishermen now having conditions attached to their licenses to operate in Jersey’s territorial waters – a key sticking point in negotiations.
The conditions were introduced following months of dialogue between the Island, the EU, Paris and industry representatives in Normandy and Brittany.