A leading business lobbyist has warned the government of the impact of negative rhetoric when speaking about foreign workers. Speaking at a recent conference on foreign labour following Brexit, Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chamber of Commerce called for the government to moderate their tone when speaking about foreign workers. In particular, Marshall identified the “best and brightest” rhetoric as being unhelpful for attracting foreign workers.

According to Marshall, a high proportion (around 40%) of the BCC’s members have indicated that they have EU workers who are considering leaving the UK following Brexit. Despite reassurances that freedom of movement will continue for some time after the Brexit deal has been finalised, this isn’t enough to encourage many EU workers to consider coming to the UK or staying in the UK.

According to Marshall, this is in part down to the rhetoric used by politicians throughout the Brexit campaign and in the months since. Speaking to Business Insider, Marshall said: “The plea that I get from rank and file businesses of whatever size and whatever sector is that the rhetoric that we hear from UK citizens and UK media on EU law needs to change.” In particular, the word ‘migrant’ “lands very badly,” he said. “They just see themselves as workers exercising their right to free movement.” He also called for a distinction, after all, “public opposition to migrants is very high, but public opposition to nurses is very low.”

Despite the concerns about turning EU workers away from the UK, Marshall was largely positive about the government’s responsiveness to suggestions from groups like the British Chamber of Commerce. He described the leadership as “broadly responsive” to the concerns and suggestions from the BCC. Although the government may be taking the advice on board, it’s not yet clear if this will translate into action or policy as the Brexit negotiations have slowed to a halt in recent months.

As the Brexit negotiations reached a deadlock, it was reported by the Guardian that Theresa May was set to call French president Emmanuel Macron in an attempt to convince EU leaders to widen the scope of the Brexit negotiations. Although May would like to turn the attention to the particulars of the transition period, her European counterparts have argued that not enough progress has been made in regards to citizens rights, the financial settlement and the Irish border.

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