DK c.e.o. Ian Hudson said UK Prime Minister Theresa May was “inhuman” for “playing with people’s lives” in her Brexit negotiations, adding that he was struggling with recruitment as a consequence, while HarperCollins UK c.e.o. Charlie Redmayne said uncertainty around freedom of movement could hit businesses that use temporary workers—such as HC’s distribution centre.
In a strongly worded speech at yesterday’s London Book Fair (14th March), Hudson called for “an immediate commitment” guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, so that the 81 EU nationals among DK’s 500 London-based staff could be confident that Brexit would not impede their career at the firm.
“The reluctance of Theresa May to do this isn’t a smart negotiation ploy, it’s just inhuman,” he said. “Why are we playing with people’s lives?” Hudson told The Bookseller that a talent drain should be a “big concern” for the book trade, and that DK was “struggling to recruit people for jobs in London”.
Redmayne, who attended Hudson’s speech, echoed his plea. He said the uncertainty around freedom of movement had resulted in staff departures from HarperCollins’ distribution centre in Scotland, where a “significant proportion” of staff hail from Eastern Europe.
“The combination of a lack of security and a weak pound means a lot of those people are going back home. That is impacting on productivity in those businesses [that employ temporary labourers], and impacting on costs and the viability of those businesses.” Hudson criticised the government for using the issue as a “negotiation card”, arguing:
“It would be very easy for Theresa May to say, ‘We are going to support people staying and retaining their rights in the UK, and you must do the same.’ Are EU countries really going to say, ‘No we’re not?’ I don’t think so. This negotiation might take six, nine, 12 months to play out. In the meantime, [Redmayne] has a problem in his warehouse and I’m struggling to recruit people for jobs in London. It’s months too long.”
Other publishers at the fair voiced concern on the issue of free movement. Faber c.e.o. Stephen Page said: “Publishers are open-minded people, and an inclusive and diverse workforce is important. I think it is very important that the government considers this in its negotiations. We need to be vigilant, bold, and stand up for what is right.”
Atlantic Books m.d. Will Atkinson called Brexit “an affront to our industry” as the free movement of people begets “free movement of ideas and communication”. He added: “A bright spot is that it might be a good time to be writing and publishing, as people seek truth and try to make sense of our difficult times. [Publishing] is the important industry for the UK at the moment—we are the North Sea oil of the 21st Century.”