Real Estate

Elaine He oversees Bloomberg Gadfly's data visualization work in Europe and also pursues her own columns combining business and markets coverage. Before joining Bloomberg, she was a graphics editor at the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Philip Hammond promised just last week to "fix Britain's broken housing market." One slight problem is that Brexit threatens to take a sledgehammer to the plan hatched by the U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Now, it's unfair to pin the blame for the imminent departure from the EU on Hammond. He's probably the keenest Europhile in Theresa May's fractious Conservative cabinet. But there were already quite a few doubts swirling around his aim to build 300,000 homes a year by the middle of the next decade. 

Then, on Wednesday, we got a cri de coeur from the British builder in the shape of a Construction Industry Brexit Manifesto. In it, seven trade bodies including the Federation of Master Builders warned against any "cliff edge" clampdown on EU workers straight after Brexit. It's not only bankers who are demanding a transition deal of at least two years.

And you can see why the hard-hat crowd are worried:

U.K. Workers by Nationality
The construction industry is reliant on foreign labor, with nearly one in 10 workers coming from the EU
Source: U.K. Office for National Statistics

Almost one in 10 of the builders working in Britain comes from the EU. The industry reckons the proportion is much higher in London. And remember, it's struggling already to find workers. In the third quarter, 62 percent of construction and infrastructure industry respondents to a Royal Institution of Surveyors survey said skills shortages were impeding growth.

We're Hiring
The U.K. employed more than two million workers from the EU in 2016, of whom about 200,000 were in construction
Source: U.K. Office for National Statistics
Note: Data are 2016 figures for the U.K. All industries have a confidence interval; for construction, that is +/- 42,000 workers.

Of course, Hammond is probably the builder's best mate when it comes to arguing their cause with the Brexiteers. And it's true too that construction firms should do more to train up Brits to do many of these jobs, as they're promising to do. But not for the first time, you do wonder how a government can deliver a genuinely big cut to immigration without it being a serious act of economic self-harm.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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Elaine He in London at

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