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BASW in Westminster - Brexit: Are we facing a no-deal?

Kerri Prince, Public and Political Affairs Lead for BASW, analyses what a 'no deal' Brexit would mean for social work and the wider country...

With talk of COVID-19 dominating the public agenda, you might be forgiven for not being aware that the United Kingdom is about to tumble out of the European Union without a deal, which will cause significant problems and logistical nightmares for many across the country from businesses who trade with EU countries, to the people who work for them, to the prices we pay in the shops as well as sectors that rely heavily on overseas workers.

As this goes to press, there has been some movement towards a Brexit deal, but ‘no-deal’ is still very much on the agenda and as the final deadline of 31st December approaches, there is not much time left for further talks. This means we need to looks seriously at what no deal would mean for social work and the wider country.

If the UK fails to secure a deal with the EU, we would be operating under World Trade Organisation rules. This means taxes on what we import and export to the EU. And we do a lot of trade with EU countries. The head of Tesco has said that a no deal Brexit would add between 3% and 5% to the weekly grocery bill. So if your weekly bill is £100 it would increase to between £103 to £105 or up to another £275 per year. Food poverty will get a lot worse in a no-deal Brexit.

WTO rules also means a 40% tax on lamb exports which would effectively destroy the export market to the EU for Welsh farmers. There would also be taxes on car exports. Nissan in Sunderland has said that the factory there is ‘unsustainable’ in the event of a no-deal Brexit and 7,000 people work at the plant.

Fewer jobs equates to soaring unemployment, which will cause repercussions on people’s quality of life. We are already seeing increasing levels of poverty in the UK, and a no-deal Brexit will almost certainly add to those levels. This will have a knock-on effect on mental health and family life.

For those EU nationals already in the UK who have failed to register with the Governments EU Settlement Scheme, they are no longer entitled to welfare payments. The numbers of people with No Recourse to Public Funds is going to get a lot bigger.

Any problem in the supply chain can also impact medicines that we import to the UK, and would mean that those in need of those medicines face delays. It isn’t just medicines, as there could also be a shortage of people able to administer certain medications as the uncertainty over whether we would be able to retain the number of healthcare professionals we need to keep our services running. Just because an EU national could come to the UK to work, it doesn’t mean that they would want to work in a non-EU country.

It is also important to mention how this will impact relations between the devolved nations in the UK, with Scotland voting to remain in the EU at the referendum in 2016. Balancing the political considerations between Ireland and Northern Ireland and abiding by the Good Friday Agreement will also cause a headache for the UK Government, and the suggested ‘border in the sea’ will cause problems for people in Northern Ireland. There are already real concerns about the availability of food in the new year. All these are considerations the Government must take into account.

The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union without a deal poses a genuine existential crisis where we will step uncertain into the world, trying to find out way through this change in conditions.

It could be that the UK and EU successfully agree a deal and Boris Johnson brings it to Parliament ahead of December 31st – but will he have the support to get it through where for some any deal is a ‘sell out’ and for others the deal is not good enough?