With the government determined to take the UK out of the EU in just a few weeks, we move the focus away from the political games with people’s lives but look ahead to the detail that might play out under any kind of Brexit. We report on our Open Forum ‘Brexit: your health, your food, your job’ held on Friday 1st March made for sombre listening.
Over a hundred people crowded into the Corn Exchange in Devizes on Friday evening for an open forum. The event was organised by Devizes for EU, the non-party political group bringing together everyone concerned about safeguarding the benefits of EU membership.
They heard three specialists pull no punches about the consequences of Brexit, especially the dire impact of a no-deal.
Tom Dolphin, a consultant anaesthetist and Council member of the British Medical Association, said that the outlook for NHS staffing would be bleak. Already there were 100,000 vacancies mainly of nurses and radiographers. Recently the number of midwives coming into the UK had plummeted by 90%.
He warned that locally trained personnel will not fill this gap. Though 5,000 doctors graduate from UK medical schools each year, almost 50% of them leave the country, not least because of decaying NHS infrastructure and government funding that still remains far behind the level it needs to reach.
Noting that the UK imports 100% of its insulin, Dr Dolphin worried about potential interruptions to the pharmaceutical supply chain with possibly catastrophic consequences for certain patient categories. He added that leaving the European Medical Agency’s regulatory regime would add cost to drugs and risk to patients. Was that what people voted for in 2016? We need to be sure. That’s why the BMA and other professional associations support a People’s Vote to find out.
Clare Moody, one of six Members of the European Parliament for the South-West, said that so far the UK government had spent £4 billion on planning for a no-deal Brexit. According to the Bank of England, growth in the UK economy had been reduced by about £300 million a week. She drew attention to a 50% reduction in investment in the automotive sector, a key industry for the south-west. Japanese investors, in particular, had been drawn to the UK by the stability, reliability, and predictability of its politics – and by the UK’s participation in the EU’s single market and customs union. The referendum and the Brexit debate had changed all this.
Turning to the aerospace sector, she mentioned recent remarks by Airbus CEO Tom Enders, who had said that he would take the company out of the UK if there was no-deal. Now we know more about the impact of Brexit, Clare Moody said that she supported a People’s Vote. For ordinary people the consequences of leaving the EU were too fundamental for their informed opinion to be ignored.
Julie Girling, also a Member of the European Parliament for the South-West, focused on food. She saw problems both for consumers and producers. She pointed out that sixty years ago the average family spent just over 30% of its income on food. Thanks in large part to EU farm subsidies, the percentage was now closer to 10-15%. 51% of the UK’s food is imported and half of that comes from the EU. After Brexit, food prices are likely to increase even without tariffs. She said that she feared for food standards. The EU’s food quality surveillance process was highly sophisticated and effective and could not be readily replicated by the UK.
Furthermore farmers will suffer. Julie Girling noted that 50% of their income comes from EU subsidies but pointed out that the UK government has said that it will replace only half of these when the country leaves the EU, estimating that about 25% of Britain’s farms will go out of business as a result.
Questions flowed: how to replace EU support for small and medium sized enterprises and medical research, for example, or the depth of the damage to the UK’s reputation within Europe and outside it. On these and other subjects the speakers were able to offer little comfort. They were clear about the way the Brexit debate has “sucked the oxygen” out of the UK’s domestic agenda. So many of the issues that matter to the daily lives of ordinary citizens have been ignored by a government obsessed with Brexit and a desperately weak parliament incapable of holding ministers to account.
This event was the third in a series of debates to present the key issues on Brexit and explain what they might mean for each of us. “With the government determined to take the UK out of the EU in just a few weeks, it is more important than ever to understand how our lives may change – and to do something about it,” said organiser Kate Freeman.
Author: Stephen Stacey, 1 March 2019
You can hear a short interview with Stephen on BBC Wiltshire congratulating Claire Perry on her stand against No Deal but goes on to argue our position for another referendum.