by Kyle Scott
This article first appeared in the Herald on 4 November 2020.
This time last year I would be in the office, staring at my ever-growing reading list of Brexit related articles and publications and thinking to myself “What is actually going to happen with this?” Now, a year on, my reading lists have dwindled slightly but we still find ourselves asking the same question, but with an added focus of “How is this going to impact me?”
While it might not currently be at the forefront of everyone’s mind, the upcoming end of the transition period marks a significant point in the UK’s political history, and also in our lives. I know it might not be at the top your list of priorities right now, but Brexit is still here, and the transition period is ending soon. Given this I think it’s important that we try and look to the future and think where things may be in a few months.
The transition period is set to end on December 31st, and the ongoing trade discussions between the EU and the UK will have concluded. Citizens, consumers and businesses will all be living under new rules. Now, we don’t know the current status of the trade deal, but it seems to me that regardless of whether or not a deal is reached; there will still be a general feeling of uncertainty.
With that uncertainty comes questions: questions about our rights to travel, about our employment rights, about citizens rights to remain in the UK, about our passports; the list goes on. The Citizens Advice network in Scotland has been assisting clients up and down the country in answering some of those questions for years now, and I have seen numerous examples of people’s anxiety over Brexit.
As Scotland’s largest independent advice network we are always keen to plan ahead and anticipate the sorts of advice people will need in the next few years. Given the data from CAB clients on Brexit, we decided to undertake some research to examine the potential impact of Brexit on Scottish communities and how our network can support them going forward.
The research was carried out for us earlier this year, but prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, by Ipsos Mori and was centred around qualitative discussions with EU nationals, UK nationals and businesses across three areas: Glasgow, Aberdeenshire and the Highlands. We wanted to know exactly who would experience what in relation to Brexit. What came out very strongly was that people’s concerns mainly fit under three broad themes: the economy, residency, and access to Healthcare and Social Security.
You may think that these are obvious, but we feel that we can only begin to understand the potential impact of Brexit if we first understand people’s concerns about it. You can read the detailed research in our report, which is on our website (www.cas.org.uk) but in summary, it found that many participants were concerned about the fragility of local economies. For example, many of those in the Highlands and Aberdeenshire were concerned about potential losses in tourism to the area and the wider impact that would have on their community. From a CAS perspective, we see this and think about what advice people might need if these concerns turn into reality. Could it mean more people seeking advice on employment and people’s rights to work in the UK, or how to claim Universal Credit, or what are their rights in terms of redundancy? For us, it is a necessary exercise to think about what might come next for those communities, so that the Citizens Advice network is there to support them.
That is just one example of the many concerns that the research participants had. The worries about access to healthcare and social security were in part a reflection of the general concern people had about how Brexit could impact the wider economy and workforce. Apart from these main themes, the list of concerns was rather extensive, covering everything from the costs of calling family and friends in the EU, to knowing whether citizenship could affect a mortgage application, and much else in between.
Citizens Advice Scotland has never taken a position on Brexit itself, be that for or against. We have instead ensured that the Citizens Advice network is ready to support people who experience a problem that Brexit may present, for instance our EU Citizens Support Service is helping people apply for settled status. But we also must be honest: there is still so much uncertainty over Brexit.
I think that it is essential, so close to the end of the transition period, that people and businesses receive more information on what Brexit will mean for them, in the most basic terms. Citizens, businesses, charities - we all want to plan ahead but we can’t do that if we don’t know what’s going to happen. We need clarity, consistency and above all, certainty.