Policy, Policy, campaigns & research

Brexit countdown: preparing for the unknown

As the Government plays a high-stakes game of deal or no deal with the EU, the rest of society is left in in limbo. But there are some things charities can and should do to prepare even at this late stage.

Brexit is scheduled to happen in just a few weeks on 31 October, with or without a withdrawal agreement (or ‘deal’) with the European Union. However, if the Government has failed to agree a deal by 19 October, then legislation recently passed by Parliament would require the Prime Minister to seek another extension of Article 50 (the legal process of the UK leaving) until at least January 2020.

The Government has given mixed messages about whether it would follow this law or seek to get around it somehow in order to leave by 31 October regardless. Further wrangling with Parliament could result in the Brexit clock running out as the courts rule on the matter, or the government collapses – resulting in a no-deal by default or possibly even uncertainty about what exactly the status of the UK is come November. Much also depends on the EU’s position – not just whether they agree a deal but whether they agree to any extension. This is uncharted territory and it’s hard to predict anything.

Certain charities are more likely to be affected by Brexit, for example if they receive EU funding, have significant numbers of workers who are EU nationals, have volunteering relationships with EU countries, or transfer data or goods to and from the EU. Certain types of charity beneficiaries, for example refugees and asylum seekers, or organisations working in human rights, could also be dramatically affected depending on the eventual outcome as policy and regulations change. Also, UK organisations are facing ongoing disruption to policy relationships, partnerships and charity or NGO coalitions across the EU on a huge range of areas.

The charity sector in general will arguably be most widely affected by any economic consequences of Brexit, especially if a no-deal Brexit produces an economic shock that puts pressure on government spending and public services, resulting in further funding cuts and rising demand for charitable services. Especially in a no deal scenario, there could be increases in the cost of food and other goods because of tariffs, and shortages or delays in receiving medicines. Charities with substantial financial assets, like foundations, could be affected by fluctuations in the value of the pound as well.

It can all seem just too messy to grapple with or futile to do any preparation – but there are some things people involved with charities can and should do to get ready even at this late stage. We’ve gathered together below some free resources aimed at charities to help you do so – note there is some crossover between topics in the resources listed.

Official government guidance on Brexit

The official government guidance on Brexit unhelpfully doesn’t include a specific section for charities (it mostly talks about ‘business’), but several of the topic areas may be relevant to them, including around data protection and the rights of EU nationals (who may be charity workers) living in the UK.

NCVO guide to a ‘no-deal’ Brexit for charities

This recently published guide includes analysis and helpful ‘actions and considerations’ on key topics including economic impact, EU funding, employing EU Nationals, volunteering, state aid, product, environmental and data standards, and political fallout.

Government guidance on EU funding in a no deal scenario

The Government has produced guidance about the future EU funding, including for the European Social Fund (ESF) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), which directly or indirectly affect many charities, in the event of a no deal.

Brexit Civil Society Alliance document with ‘things to do’

The Alliance campaigns for a civil society voice in the Brexit process, and has produced a helpful summary document with ‘things to do’ on many of the relevant issues here.

Bates Wells Braithwaite briefing for charities

BWB charity lawyers consider the issue of charities looking to establish another legal presence within the EU (in part to continue access to EU funds).

Association for Charitable Foundations analysis

ACF has published an analysis of what Brexit ‘no deal papers’ might mean for foundations.