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Member Blog: Brexit – a year on, where are we?


In the run-up to the European Referendum, the UK public was confronted by a range of positive and negative messages, not necessarily validated, about the role of Europe and the impact of European interventions in their lives.

One need only recall the £350 billion per week that the NHS would benefit from should the UK withdraw. The process generated a level of engagement that appears to be continuing, albeit the views have tended to be strongly polarised into remain and leave camps. ‘Hard’, ‘soft’ and, as I’ve heard recently, ‘ultra-hard’ Brexit are now part of our day-to-day vocabulary.

Ever since the result of the European Referendum was announced, there has been much debate about the implications for economic development, local authorities, businesses, devolved administrations and the ‘man on the street’.

Uncertainty has been the constant for the past year but the situation is becoming increasingly clearer. For example, the incoming Conservative government has commenced negotiations with the EU institutions on Brexit; there have been guarantees proposed for EU citizens in the UK (and UK citizens in other European countries); and EU funding approved before March 2019 is said to be guaranteed. The Great Repeal Bill will incorporate all EU legislation into UK law with acceptance, removal or revision of these laws to be determined in due course.

European funding interventions were designed to address disparities in local economic performance and individual business challenges – from agricultural and fishing businesses, to large-scale transport and infrastructure schemes, from training for the unemployed, to community-led urban and rural projects. Success has been shown via a range of mechanisms in relation to jobs, business turnover, industrial premises and local facilities. ‘Softer’ benefits have also been demonstrated – say by students/young people who widened their horizons by participating in European mobility projects.

The migration issue cannot be ignored. Many businesses need to be able to take on workers from other European countries with tourism, care, health and food processing sectors often cited as those in need and these are often located in more rural areas. Such businesses have expressed concern about Brexit and implications for their workforce, and continue to do so.

However, there are other queries that still require addressing. What will happen to the European Health Entitlement Card and implications for travel insurance? How can we promote the attractiveness and welcome of the UK as a destination for visitors and for inward investment? Exchange rates will fluctuate in line with monetary and political changes. There are, of course, other issues that I’ve not touched upon.

The question is how we can promote what has been achieved and mitigate or minimise the concerns. I wish I had an easy answer for us economic development professionals. As ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and notwithstanding further possible political change, we have to accept the timescale and decision to leave.

However, we have an opportunity in the next two years and beyond to identify the impacts and lobby through the IED and other networks for effective consideration of these, and therefore generate a strategic economic development approach outside the European Union.

Susan Smith is Economic Development Manager at East Lothian Council

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