Updated: Dec 17, 2018
A well-attended public discussion entitled ‘Brexit: How will it affect our community’, was held at Lansdowne Crescent Methodist Church on Saturday October 20th 2018. The discussion was chaired by Rev David Haslam MBE and the panel included Ian Edgar, an experienced former NHS manager in the Midlands; Daniel Walton, a local Director of OLPRO Ltd and Luke Ryder, Warwickshire and Worcestershire County Advisor to the National Farmers Union.
We learned from Ian that the NHS had over 50000 vacancies and there is concern that Brexit could exacerbate this crisis as 9% of doctors and 7% of nurses are currently from the EU countries. Since the referendum, registration by EU Nationals has dropped by 89%. Brexit will result in the UK having no or limited access to the European Centre for Disease control and thus if we face a crisis due to a disease outbreak, we will be hampered in our responses. The UK will also drop out of the European Medicines Agency which will delay access to many novel medicines and also if the UK fails to agree to a trade agreement, tariffs and customs checks are likely to reduce availability and supply of certain key medicines. The UK is a net beneficiary of research grants from the EU (+£3.4 billion). Over 40% of NHS R&D funding currently comes from this source, putting improvements in patient care at risk, unless UK taxpayers fill this gap. There are about 2 million UK citizens currently living in the EU and are entitled to access to their host countries public healthcare systems, this could be a risk if reciprocal agreements are not put in place after Brexit.
With regard to business, Daniel Walton stated that uncertainty on the details of any trade agreement with the EU is leading to real difficulties. The UK economy has already shrunk by 2% since the referendum vote. In September the Birmingham Mail estimated that post- Brexit, local economic output could shrink by 13% if there is no deal and by 8% even if there is a trade deal. Jaguar Land Rover is already planning a shorter working week. Companies such as OLPRO Ltd trade with many of the 25 countries in the EU, it will be difficult to replace these markets by agreements with non-EU countries in the short time frame that would be needed. In addition business has benefited from EU support for training, energy efficiencies, new IT equipment etc. The Midlands is a net beneficiary from EU financial support. Where are the funds going to come from to keep Midlands business competitive?
In farming, it appears that there is some clarity emerging on what the industry may face in a post-Brexit world. A new UK Agricultural Bill is at the Committee stage setting out a move to a new domestic policy, moving away from the EU Common Agricultural Policy. At present UK farmers receive direct financial support from the EU. The new UK policy will replace this with funds to encourage good environmental practices; provide improvements to infrastructure and animal welfare. The Government is proposing to have powers to intervene in the supply chain between the farmers and the retailers. It is hoped that this will improve returns to farmers. However, the new arrangements are transitional and all direct support of this kind will be phased out over 8-10 years. UK farmers will then be competing with EU farmers still receiving direct support. In addition the well-known problem of available seasonal labour continues to be a concern, falling by about 17% year on year as the number of EU citizens willing to do this work dries up.
Following these presentations there was a lively question and answer session.
Questions raised included will the new subsidies go to ‘real farmers’ and not the big landowners? Should we be producing cheap food at all costs? What are the possible positive outcomes from Brexit e.g. from the falling exchange rate of the pound? What is the key to healing the rift between Leavers and Remainers? What assurances can be given to EU citizens living in the UK regarding their status and job security post-Brexit? Should there be a second referendum? How can we influence the outcome of Brexit? Attendees were encouraged to keep informed on the issues, not to be taken in by the rhetoric and posturing of politicians and the Press and to write to our MP if we feel strongly on any of the issues raised.
David Tweats (Lansdowne Methodist Church and Engage Malvern)