We’re less than ten days from the UK’s current Brexit deadline of 31 October 2019. What, if anything, should college leaders be doing right now?
Like dozens of trade associations, AoC has been offered funding by the Department for Business to offer no-deal contingency planning advice to colleges but no-one in government has told us what to say. Here’s my honest assessment of the situation.
The risk of no-deal on 31 October – currently a low risk
The UK Government and EU commission agreed an updated withdrawal agreement two weeks ago which was ratified by the EU Council on 11 October. The government presented the agreement to Parliament but, after three key Brexit votes on Saturday and Tuesday in which the score for the government was 1-2 down, the most likely thing to happen in the next few days is an EU decision to give the UK a Brexit extension beyond 31 October 2019. Boris Johnson’s government scored a 30-vote majority in the second reading vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill but the coalition of MPs in support is shaky so an election before Brexit is still a possibility.
There are now two diametrically opposing views of what this means:
- According to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Michael Gove), there is an “increased possibility.. that the UK will leave without a deal on 31 October” (statement to the House of Parliament on Monday 21 October)
- Meanwhile, according to the President of the European Council, there is currently consultation on how to respond to the British request for an extension but “a no-deal Brexit will never be our decision”
People with time to spare will follow every twist and turn on Parliament TV, twitter and the 24 hours new channels. A short summary is that a 31 October no-deal is not impossible but is unlikely.
What colleges should do to prepare for no-deal?
AoC published a No-Deal Brexit College Readiness Pack at the start of October. We distilled official no-deal advice into a couple of tasks: to carry out a quick risk assessment of the no-deal issues that might affect the college and to use this to update the business continuity plan or equivalent that all colleges are required by the funding agency (and their insurers to keep). Our advice hasn’t changed. The advice pack is short. The action required is limited.
The issues that matter for colleges are all about people
The first and most important Brexit-related issues relate to individuals and their families. Much of the discussion about Brexit and business has been about goods and sectors (for example fishing) but colleges are organisations that involve thousands of people each week, including staff, contractors, students and apprentices. Some are EU nationals; many more have friends or family members who will be directly touched by the changes.
And the key message is that deal or no-deal, Brexit will bring major changes to individual rights and to the migration system but these changes come in the long-term.
In the short-term (for at least 12 months):
- very little changes
- EU nationals will be able to cross the border as now and will continue to have the same rights as UK nationals to use the NHS, access education and other public services.
- Irish citizens’ rights do not change at all.
- the Home Office will continue to encourage UK resident EU nationals to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme
This will be the case whether there’s a deal or no-deal. If there’s a no-deal, the Home Office promise a new European Temporary Leave to Remain for EU nationals who enter the UK after 31 October plus a few visible changes at the border but significant reform requires legislation and new IT systems.
On either scenario, the big changes come in 2021. And while the change may be limited in 2019, it could be big in 2021. This will depend on political events. The current government promises a big overhaul of the rules alongside an end to EU freedom of movement. But they do not have a majority and an election might bring an alternative government. Whoever is in charge, Brexit – when and if it happens – will put the UK Parliament in control of migration rules and push the government towards systems which treat EU and non-EU nationals in more similar ways.
As well as planning for a no-deal Brexit, we need to engage with this longer-term discussion. A key issue for colleges will be to ensure that free exchange of people and ideas continues in education.