Monday, 1 August 2016

Letter to the Settlement Board

I wrote this as a letter to the Board at the Settlement where I work, and I thought I might as well put it here. I wouldn't describe it as cheerful.

Hi all

I'm sending this from home, as it isn't part of my job. I'm commenting as a local resident on Brexit and its likely impact on the area and the Settlement. I would like my comments to go to the Board.
In my view there are strong arguments for thinking that if Brexit happens the negative impact on the UK will be substantial, and that BS5 residents are likely to be more severely affected than most. Here are some of the reasons why.

1. Trade. Currently, slightly less than half of our exports and slightly more than half of our imports are with the EU. Nobody knows what deal will eventually be done, but there is no reason to think the EU will be anything other than punitive in its approach to trade negotiations. As a result, it is expected that the British economy will shrink by 5 - 8 %. This means further cuts to benefits and social programmes. Leave campaigners have suggested that new trade deals with the rest of the world will compensate for this, but have not explained why Britain will be a more convincing trading partner alone than as a bloc of 28 nations. In any case, these supposed new deals will not be negotiated before Britain leaves the EU, and we are unlikely to get very good terms as by then we will be desperate.

2. Unemployment. For any company that trades with the EU, there will be a strong temptation to move their business back into the EU if they can. This might be as simple as relocating to Scotland or Ireland. This means job losses in the UK as a whole, and therefore in Bristol.

3. Food. Britain consumes about twice as much food as it produces. If we lose access to the EU trade zone, all the food we import from the EU will be subject to tariffs, and will become more expensive. The next time you're in the supermarket, have a look at the country of origin of the fruit and veg you're buying. You will notice that places like Spain and Holland feature strongly. Now imagine the impact of tariffs on the cost of those items, and the damage they would do to local campaigns for healthy eating in BS5.

4. Community conflict. It may be that we can retain access to the single market, but the EU is highly unlikely to agree to that unless we also agree to the free movement of EU citizens. This would mean that all the people who voted to leave because they thought it would mean less foreigners in the UK are going to be very disappointed, and very angry. Areas like ours will have to bear the brunt of this.

5. Returning expats. If we expel EU nationals, we're likely to get many of ours back in tit for tat expulsions. They'll often come back unemployed, plus European property owners will struggle to replace with like for like at UK prices, which means they'll come back here, and they'll come back angry.

6. Uprooted EU Somalis. Many of Bristol's Somalis got their refugee status in EU countries (often Holland), then moved here. What will their status be? Who can say?

7. EU protection for workers and the environment. Much of the legislation that protects things like minimum wages, maternity pay, etc comes from the EU. The same is true for environmental protection. Conservative think tanks have already started to describe Brexit as an opportunity to do away with laws that they describe as "red tape". This means lower wages and less workers' rights for BS5 residents who are already low paid, and an easier ride for people who want to put power stations and the like on our doorstep.

8. Loss of EU funding. It's true that the UK pay more into EU coffers than we receive back (although this is balanced out several times over by trade advantages, plus we've already spent several years' savings on baling out the pound), but EU money that is spent in the UK tends to go to projects targeted at disadvantage. I wonder if the current government will replace that money? Given that they've already used Brexit panic as an excuse to further reduce corporation tax I very much doubt that.

9. Loss of travel opportunities. The impact of Brexit on European travel is currently unclear, but it is unlikely to make it easier. Again, there is no reason to think that the EU will be anything other than punitive here. The recent experience of the French with English football hooligans and ongoing problems with sections of English youth in Spain and Greece will fuel the European desire to make travel more difficult.

10. Loss of work opportunities abroad for young people. Again, if we stop taking EU workers the EU is likely to reciprocate. It is worth remembering here that UK nationals living on the European mainland are by no means always popular in their host countries. Imagine being a young person growing up in BS5, working hard at school to get qualifications and hoping that those qualifications might give them opportunities on the European mainland. How must they be feeling right now?

11. Our lack of knowledge is in itself a threat. We don't know what deal will be agreed - there certainly doesn't seem to have much thought about that by former or current political leaders - and it's unlikely that all of this will happen. What we very probably will get, though, is a highly toxic subset of it. It is extremely hard for individuals, groups and organisations to make proper plans in this atmosphere of apprehension and uncertainty, and this will go on for many years.

I was concerned to see that in a recent consultation exercise in the area a majority of local residents listed Brexit as fifth or sixth priority out of six local issues. It seems to me that the subject is rather more urgent than that. There may be little that the Settlement can do, but I would strongly encourage you to factor it into your plans.

You may feel that this letter is long on problems, but short on solutions. I wish I had solutions to offer you. The one ray of sunshine I can find is that if we should succeed in replacing this government with a more progressive one, that government would be able to pursue whatever solutions to these problems it could find. Currently this also seems unlikely, but maybe the next few years will bring better news in this regard.

Jon Eccles

Like I said, not exactly cheerful.

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