From green issues to employment rights, Brexit leaves a policy vacuum that charities need to closely monitor
UK policy has been intertwined with EU law for decades. This encompasses almost every part of British life, from employment and human rights legislation to the environment and flow of information.
The UK’s departure from the EU and the end of the transition period in December 2020, has not necessarily severed that link.
Much of the policy that the UK has in common with the EU will remain in place. There is simply too much policy to unpack in a short space of time, though that may change in years to come. In addition, in some areas, such as data protection, there remains a strong agreement in the principles involved between Britain and EU member states.
But there are a raft of areas where the UK may change legislation, which will effectively cause a policy vacuum. A second transition phase is on the horizon, where further policy is still to be ironed out.
Charities working to protect the environment and the lives of vulnerable communities need to be especially vigilant amid this policy vacuum. They have the opportunity to help British politicians create policy that is potentially better than the EU laws in place.
Charities also need to ensure they have a strong voice to protect their beneficiaries should changes to law be mooted at Westminster.
A key body to lobby will be the Civil Society Forum, which has been set up as part of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement and ensures that representatives from charities have a chance to ensure the voluntary sector’s views are taken on board as the UK and EU’s relationship develops.
Here we outline some of the key areas of this policy vacuum, where legislation could change and there is still much to be decided by UK politicians.
Currently employment law in the UK derives from Westminster legislation, case law, and EU policy.
When the UK formally left the EU at the end of 2020, the UK was no longer bound by EU employment law. A ‘non-regression’ arrangement is in place, however. This sees the UK agree to not reduce existing protections for workers in a way that distorts competition.
EU legislation that remains for the time being includes the ‘working time directive’, where people cannot work for more than 48 hours a week on average, normally averaged over 17 weeks. Although workers can choose to opt out of this 48-hour week.
In recent weeks the government has admitted that EU employment rules in the UK could be looked at, although business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has offered assurances that there are no plans to reduce workers’ rights.
This creates a potential policy vacuum for workers’ rights and one that charities need to be aware of, especially those supporting low income working families.
Another post-Brexit policy vacuum is around green legislation. The UK government is seeking to rectify this with an Environment Bill that is currently progressing through the parliamentary process.
This was first announced in 2018, introduced into parliament a year later, and could become law later in 2021. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the general election at the end of 2019 have delayed this Bill’s progress.
Green charities are concerned that opportunities to urgently create fresh legislation to protect the environment are being lost.
Greenpeace said: “Time and time again the government tells us that ‘urgent action’ is needed to restore nature and that we can’t afford to ‘dither and delay’. Why then are they delaying the most important piece of environmental legislation for decades?”
Time and time again the government tells us that "urgent action" is needed to restore nature and that we can’t afford to "dither and delay".— Greenpeace UK (@GreenpeaceUK) January 30, 2021
Why then are they delaying the most important piece of environmental legislation for decades?#EnvironmentBillhttps://t.co/GpZMLqdr0a pic.twitter.com/hjyOAQslly
A key policy ethos shared by the UK and EU has been in giving opportunities to young people to study and work abroad.
Until the end of 2020 the UK was part of the Erasmus+ study programme. This funds training and employment opportunities to young people across EU member states.
The UK government had previously suggested that it would remain part of the scheme, but it has since decided to leave the programme and will instead set up its own version.
The Turing Scheme aims to continue Erasmus+’s focus on supporting disadvantaged young people but will aim to have a global reach.
Applications for the new scheme are set to open in March 2021. Charities supporting disadvantaged young people are advised to monitor developments and further details of how this scheme will be administered.