Construction in Brexit: Hard times for hard hats?

January 15, 2021

With the recent departure of the UK from the European Union, it is understandable that a ‘hard’ Brexit deal has caused many to feel unsettled.

Although 15% of top-level executives within the industry were happy for the UK to leave, many were hoping that a hard Brexit would be avoided and something more clear-cut would be presented, for the dissolution of the partnership between the UK and the EU.

The UK must now look at the facts and find a way to move forward quickly with minimal disruption to the economy, a task that seems increasingly difficult to complete.

The deficiency of migrant workers

The UK construction industry relies fairly heavily on skilled and unskilled labour workforce from the EU.

In London, it is estimated that around 28% of workers are from the EU and across the remaining parts of the UK, 8% of the workforce are from the EU. Whilst the freedom of movement between the UK and the EU has made it easy for workers, the restriction on this could see the UK struggle to retain a sufficient number of workers in the future for the ever-growing demand of services.

The rise in material costs

Around 50% of all UK imports currently originate from the EU and 64% of all construction materials are also imported from the UK to the EU.

The abundance of Brexit red tape that comes with leaving the single market will likely disrupt the supply chain, with increased border checks and customs declarations required to import/export, further leading to increased costs for the construction. This could likely cause a knock-on effect on the housing market and other areas of the economy that rely on construction. Many firms have already stockpiled materials anticipating this increase in costs, but this security they have will inevitably come to an end.

Product standardisation

As previously part of the single market, the UK adhered to the standards and regulations of the customs union.

Should the UK now choose to make any changes, this could cause considerable delays and increased costs whilst the amendments are being made to adhere to the new trade regulations set in place. This could also happen in reverse, as 63% of construction materials are exported to the EU from the UK. Although the above may be a possibility, it would be in both parties’ interests to align their standards to each other to cause minimal disruption to an already complicated divorce.


Although on the surface of it, it may seem like doom and gloom, the UK Government has already implemented programmes that assist the construction industry. The 3 main criteria discussed above are some of the main areas that the industry can already get monetary assistance with.

The UK Government allows businesses to claim back up 25-33% of consumable material costs, PAYE & Sub-contractor costs and any expenses directly related to meeting legislation changes. With programmes like these in place and with businesses like Bonham & Brook here to assist them, it should hopefully alleviate some of the financial burdens that could come into play.

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