As some of you with long memories might remember, the UK once voted to leave the European Union. Yes, way back in June 2016 Britain took back control, cut the cord from Brussels and stepped out into a world of unimaginable free trade riches. Except, that’s not exactly what happened.
Instead, the vote set in train a whole series of events and grand moments: government defeats, a handful of general elections, new political leaders, treaties, border negotiations, cliff-edges, backstops, deadlines and extensions. Interestingly, only around now should we be coming to the end of David Cameron’s second five-year term.
At SCVO we’ve been keeping ourselves abreast of all the latest developments and listening to our members to find out what it all means for our sector.
To refresh your memory, we currently sit in the second half of the ‘transition period’. So, while the UK officially left the EU at midnight on 31 January 2020, we remain a de-facto member until this coming Hogmanay. This was meant to give enough time to sort out and put in place new arrangements and relationships between the EU and the UK which would come into effect on New Year’s Day 2021.
The ‘cliff edge’ returns
This was already an ambitious (read: foolhardy) timetable to begin with. The best description I’ve heard of the scale of the challenge was that it’d be “like unscrambling eggs”. In short, you don’t do this in under a year and, if you do, you don’t do it well. To somewhat complicate matters further, a mere three months into the transition period, much of Europe entered lockdown to supress COVID-19 – halting face-to-face negotiations and diverting attention towards more critical matters.
Logicians among you may have thought it would be wise to extend the transition period to make up for this. However, logic still seems to be out of fashion, and the UK Government formally advised the EU that no extension would be requested or required. That ship has now well and truly sailed and, unless the new relationship can be signed, sealed and delivered by the end of the year, we will be in a ‘No Deal Brexit’ situation.
While stating that they, of course, want to secure a deal with the EU before the end of the year, the UK Government considers the threat of ‘No Deal’ as one of their trump cards and continually asks the public and business to be prepared for such a reality. The latest campaign (“Check, Change, Go”) was launched on Monday 13th July and provides a link to a questionnaire which appears to provide tailored advice to you. I’ve not taken it, so can’t say for sure if “pray for a deal” is one of the suggested actions.
Keeping pace with Europe
Because of the devolved nature of the UK, many areas covered by EU legislation should become the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament (e.g. the environment and human rights). This has largely gone unnoticed for decades, because all nations of the UK were members of the EU and had no choice but to abide by the same rules and standards. However, As the UK leaves the EU, constituent parts of the UK should find themselves fully responsible for areas of policy that they previously had no control over. It seems almost inevitable that the devolved nations of the UK will begin to pull in different directions in key policy areas and there will be a heated debate over the pre-eminence of Westminster.
While it might be easy to write this off as more political pantomime and simply a new battlefield on which Westminster and Holyrood can fight, there exists a real opportunity for the sector to have its say on how these new powers are used for the best.
The Scottish Parliament is currently seeking views on how Scotland can ‘keep pace’ with EU law – where that is possible. We know, through our continuous engagement with the sector since the EU Referendum, that the sector will be subject to just as much change and turmoil as any other business, sector or institution. For that reason, we should be forward in making our concerns known – pointing out exactly how new powers can be maximised to keep pace with the highest standards and produce optimum outcomes.
SCVO has consistently said that the devolution settlement should be respected and relevant powers coming from Brussels should be devolved to Scotland. We will also submit our own response to this consultation, ensuring the sector is properly considered in this process and the potential consequences of failing to act are fully understood. However, it is near impossible for us to cover the technical and legal details that impact all the varied aspects of the charity and voluntary sector.
By submitting your own views to the committee, we hope that your organisation can provide that level of detail, experience and understanding – helping to ensure the widest range of voices from our sector are heard in unison at this crucial juncture.
The call for views will be open until Friday 7 August 2020.