Chaos is engulfing the Brexit negotiating process and, if you believe reports, the prospects of a ‘no-deal’ outcome are seemingly increasing by the day. I believe this would not serve the national interest and, in fact, would not only let down the country but also risk selling out the younger generations.
Some might argue that Brexit has nothing to do with Ealing Council. Those people couldn’t be more wrong. The consequences of what, in my view, was a self-harming decision to leave the European Union (EU) in the 2016 referendum, and the resulting chaos, are having an impact on Ealing already.
With only seven months to go before the UK is set to leave the EU, planning by the council to handle any harmful effects of Brexit are still hampered by uncertainty over what the Brexit deal will be and the real threat of a no-deal Brexit.
Ealing is greatly affected by Brexit for a number of reasons, including its west London location, reliance on Heathrow, our local economy built on numerous multinational businesses accessing European markets and our demographic mix as one of the most European boroughs in London.
Take, for example, the uncertainty over EU trade inhibiting investment in new jobs and productivity. Because of this disruptive effect, GlaxoSmithKline, based just outside Ealing, is planning to spend £70million a year on Brexit transitional costs during the first two-three years after the UK’s departure from the EU.
We are all too aware in Ealing of the pressures facing our hospitals and GP surgeries. The NHS, under severe current pressure, has reported increasing vacancies for thousands of doctors, nurses, dentists and midwives, while more EU medical staff are leaving the UK. In 2017, 10% of all employees in London’s health services were from the EU. In the last year 4,000 nurses and midwives have left the capital and only 800 have arrived. Brexit is already impacting on our ability to look after our sick and infirm.
There are doubts about future funding for EU-supported projects in health, infrastructure and skills training that Ealing currently benefits from. For example, the European Social Fund supports skills for work training for unemployed ethnic minority women in a number of boroughs, including Ealing. Ealing Hospital is taking part in an international project monitoring Type 2 diabetes for South Asian/South Asian-origin populations, funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme. What will happen to these vitally important projects if we cannot guarantee such funding going forward?
There is also a basic human element to Brexit and its impacts on the people of Ealing. There are tens of thousands of EU citizens living and contributing to the public life and economic wellbeing of our borough. They work in all our public services, including the NHS, schools, colleges, university and the council. They now find themselves in limbo and the increasing prospect of a chaotic no-deal Brexit adds even more uncertainty and stress to their lives. Some are making the decision to leave the UK.
Then there are the more harrowing reports from around the UK. Crashing out of the EU with no customs agreement could cause delays of fresh food and essential goods. Pharmaceutical firms are stockpiling medicinal drugs, fearing Brexit will delay imports. Birmingham City Council is making preparations based on the possibility of civil unrest from serious economic and social disruption.
In light of all of these challenges, Ealing Council, along with other councils across the country, are calling for a ‘People’s Vote’ on any Brexit deal. At the April meeting of full council a motion was backed that called for the government to guarantee the rights of all EU citizens to live and work in the UK now, even in the event of a no-deal Brexit; and also to give both Parliament and the British public the final say on any Brexit deal.
In addition, the council’s website now has a Brexit information page with guidance for the thousands of EU citizens living in our borough.
As I suggested at the start, Brexit has plenty to do with Ealing Council and it will affect the future of everyone who lives here, in one way or another. It is only right, in my opinion, that we all get to vote on the ultimate deal – or no-deal – put before us.
Brexit image by ChiralJon via FlickR – visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/69057297@N04/33756733695/