What does Brexit mean for you as an EA?

Important news on Brexit has just been agreed – here, Gina Clarke equips you with the latest information and highlights key points that’ll affect every assistant around the globe.

The exit of the UK from the European Union comes closer each day. But, for most of us, the talks that rumble on are just noise in the background and the truth is that – until now – the real implications of Brexit had yet to be seen for most EAs, both in the UK and beyond, as talks with the EU continued. Now, talks have come to a head with the UK agreeing to that all-important divorce bill. Soon, trade talks will begin and their outcomes could mean your organisation needs to make sure that it has a seat at the table.

For EAs, this could mean extended travel plans as worldwide meetings become more frequent. Here, knowledge on local regulations, imports and visas may become vital pieces of information. And a lack of knowledge and understanding of the upcoming changes could kybosh any new partnerships before they have even started.

But don’t worry – Chief of Staff has the lowdown on the need-to-knows that’ll get you up-to speed when it comes to travel, recruitment and anything else that could affect your role.

There have been a lot of fluctuations of the pound but lately, as details become clearer, the pound is rising against the euro and the dollar. Expect some bumps in the road, though, when the Irish border is agreed and at the next quarterly Brexit summit, scheduled for October.

Training and development
Conferencing and training will still go ahead, but companies may have to look at additional time, costs and potential delays when scheduling. Flying in speakers for in-house training could become troublesome and equally, deposits for workshops and other events will likely rise to cover costs like this.

Working conditions
For the EA, there should be an emphasis on time management after Brexit. You’ll need to familiarise yourself with different countries’ agreements – especially that of where you’re based and where your exec frequently travels – and factor in additional travel planning and budget fluctuations where appropriate.

Recruitment and staffing
Little will change between now and December 2021, although there’ll be a charge for obtaining visas. The future immigration deal has yet to be decided, although there is a study group that expects to report back in September 2018 – it could recommend a number of requirements, from a minimum salary expectation to a list of ‘skilled jobs’ (similar to Australia, which currently lists the role of EA in this category). But, regardless of being ‘on the list’, if an employee has a firm job offer within the minimum wage specified they should be able to apply for a visa.
In addition, when Brexit was first announced, companies rushed to sponsor their hard-won employees for residency, but there’s no need for now as the rights of all citizens will continue until the end of the transition period in December 2021. New recruits can still have the right to a permanent residency before this date however, the UK will still charge them for obtaining visas.

Corporate travel
Within the UK
For those entering the UK, little will change as Great Britain already grants visa-free travel to nationals from 56 countries, ranging from the United States to the Maldives. Passports are stamped on entry and people are allowed to stay for a maximum of six months. But, for those booking in advance, watchdog Which has advised that flights could be grounded if no aviation deal has been decided by the end of the transition.
And there’s more bad news:

  • The boss’ travel within the UK is set to become more expensive.
  • Expect to pay more for UK-based events with the increased national living wage.
  • If you’re an EA in the hotel and events industry, staff turnover could increase due to visa restrictions for those who wish to stay longer.

Within Europe
So far, there’s been very little said about travel post-transition period – but it’s unlikely that UK citizens will continue to enjoy freedom to travel in Europe and vice-versa with European citizens. A new electronic initiative by the EU that should come in to force by 2020, however, would give non-EU citizens a right to reside in European countries for a fixed amount of time; thought to be 90 days. And, if your boss needs longer, you’d need to apply for the full visa.

Within the rest of the world
Further travel-related administration will probably be warranted but not a lot is known until the trade details are approved. Free movement could be a tailored bargaining chip instead of having one immigration policy for all countries – so, for example, import taxes may be lowered for a country the UK trades with often but they’d implement a visa policy, whereas there could be higher import taxes and a ‘skilled jobs’ list for a country not traded with often.
The truth is that Brexit will affect us all to some degree and, essentially, it’s an admin burden that could fall on the assistant’s shoulders. Like any transition, it’ll take some time to adjust but we can make it easier by preparing where possible.

The Brexit transition: the facts

  • The UK will leave the EU on the 29 March 2019. This March, David Davis, secretary of state for exiting the European Union, and Michael Barnier, EU chief negotiator, historically shook hands and declared they’d made a ‘decisive’ step in sealing a Brexit transition deal.
  • The transition dates are shorter than first thought. The transition period will end on 31 December 2021, giving the UK 21 months to implement the deal, instead of the 24 previously expected.
  • Britain agreed to sign up to the Brexit divorce bill – but if the deal fails for any reason (such as government challenges or a lack of trade deals), the UK does have a “fall back” option – similar to Norway, the country would be aligned with the customs union (which means there’d be no extra costs for imports and exports) and the single market (where people, goods, services and labour can travel freely) so, essentially, it’d be business as usual.
  • The Irish border – Britain and the EU promised to keep a ‘soft’ Irish border with the UK, aiming to use technology to keep an ‘invisible border’ as part of the free trade deal. However, this has yet to be approved and if nothing is agreed the UK would resort to aligning closely within EU rules to avoid a hard border.
  • The UK is now free to seek trade deals for the first time in 40 years – although they won’t come into force until the implantation period ends. Any international agreements brokered by the EU will continue to apply, ensuring that there will be little disruption to trade relationships.
The EA’s view
Sue Spink, PA at Arup, is based in the UK and believes that Brexit red tape could significantly eat into her planning time – and budget:
“The main impact will be on my travel planning – I currently support the global water business leader whose remit is for teams across the world, so there are 20 plus overseas trips a year. And, with our business being in such a global market, it’s a case of ‘if they need a meeting, we need to make it happen.’ Although I can appreciate for firms looking to cut down on travel costs that investing in video conferencing and digital technology makes sense.
“The headaches I’m expecting are more short notice invitations. Right now, big trips are planned three to six months in advance.
“Budget is a big consideration of mine and I try to find cuts where I can. For instance, on a trip this year with New Zealand and America on the same itinerary, it was cheaper to buy a round-the-world ticket than buy separately. We already have a corporate card for currency, which helps us to figure out the expenses, but a lot of countries don’t have a full receipt that includes the item, date and price so that can be tricky.
“Overall, I don’t think anyone in our business will start to panic due to Brexit: if the business needs it then we will make it happen – it’ll just require extra effort.”