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Why Brexit Shouldn't Spell The End For International Collaboration

08/06/2017 13:21 BST | Updated 08/06/2017 13:21 BST
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Recently I was listening to a group of Remain voters discuss whether they would base their vote in the General Election on the promise of a second EU referendum. Most said 'no'. Their line was simply: the vote has been decided; we need to proceed and exit.

For those who are dismayed by the implications of exiting the EU, this certainly gives pause for thought.

Putting aside our own concerns about what this decision means for the UK, for us, and for future generations, we must remember that we held a democratic vote, a public referendum, and the majority of the country as a whole voted to leave.

But that is not to say that we can't in good conscience challenge how the outcome will be exercised, and the journey to get there.

The arguments about the benefits the EU has brought us are well rehearsed and at a recent meeting of colleagues from across the UK and European third sector, some of these were brought to the fore. For example:

Strengthening rights

As members of the EU we have strengthened citizens' rights, including increasing mobile EU citizens' right to vote where they reside. (Note that here we are talking about EU citizens, and not 'migrants' - the term often used by scare-mongering media and the far-right.)

The EU and its membership have also played an integral role in strengthening equality and non-discrimination practices and laws across gender, LGBTI, working families and disability.

Equal pay for men and women is enshrined in EU law (although sadly we know this is not always implemented) whilst the Human Rights Act was a significant piece of legislation which came about thanks to the work of EU member states. In recognition of its importance, and the integral role it plays in society and how a modern society should function, hundreds of organisations across the UK, including Children in Scotland, have joined the British Institute of Human Rights in calling for its protection regardless of how Brexit negotiations are taken forward.

Jobs

The EU has increased opportunities for students, trainees, teachers and others to work across Europe and the European Union, allowing shortages in teaching, early learning and childcare as well as social and healthcare to be filled. In addition, approximately one in 10 British jobs are reported to be directly linked to membership of the European Union's single market.

Funding

All of this is before we even consider funding that is channeled to organisations and programmes across the UK directly from EU funds. More than €200 billion has been pledged between now and 2020 alone in support and innovation to tackle the challenges of an ageing population for example. The Erasmus programme invests millions to support families, children and young people.

The UK is amongst the biggest beneficiary of EU research funds, alongside Poland, Italy and Spain.

Freedom of movement

The freedom to work and study abroad, not to mention easy travel, has helped more than 1.4 million British people try a new way of life, and more than 200,000 UK citizens have taken part in the Erasmus student exchange programme since 1987.

Environmental policy

Finally, through commonly agreed EU environmental policies, progress is being made in reducing carbon and stabilizing the number of many animals and plants under threat, though Climate Change remains a danger to citizens both in and out of the EU.

From just these few examples, even the most ardent Brexiters might feel daunted by the sheer scale of decoupling from the EU. For those of us who recognise that the strengths of our rights covering children and family draw on the European framework, it is worrying.

But continuing to argue to remain a part of the EU when the majority in the UK voted to leave suggests that those who voted to leave have less clout or claim to victory than those who voted Remain. Challenging the outcome is to challenge the whole democratic process the UK political system has been built on.

However, it is legitimate that in discussions around our exit from the European Union, we must seek confirmation that there will be no reversal or detriment to existing rights and protections across all our public institutions. Vital relationships must be maintained and nurtured.

Discussing this with others in the sector, as well as international and EU counterparts, it is clear that we all stand together on one message: Brexit should not spell the end for valuable cross-border working. Collaboration, communication and openness must remain the priorities.

So what should our next steps be?

Our mandate for action will come from how people vote in this week's UK General Election, not to mention the result of any future referendum on Scottish independence.

But regardless of outcome, we must continue to seek ways of working together within the EU network to learn from each other and support change and improvement - not just for us and our own interests, but for the next generation and children and young people across Europe.

Jackie Brock was a member of a recent third sector delegation to Brussels, organised by the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO). The delegation met with partners from across Europe, including the European Civic Forum and the European Network of National Civil Society Associations (ENNA), to highlight the need to continue links post-Brexit.