Long Read: What might Brexit mean for Disabled people?

The Post- Brexit Situation

After the referendum, it remains unclear what Britain’s future will be. Although there was a clear vote to leave the EU, there are various decisions that need to be made. First and foremost, when the UK plans to trigger the leaving process as set out by Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, upon which the formal two-year divorce settlement and negotiation begin .

David Cameron resigned on Friday, going back on his promise to trigger A50 immediately if the UK voted to leave. This job will now be left to his successor, which will be formally announced before the Conservative Party Conference in October. Current favourites include Theresa May and Boris Johnson, and the result will be decided by Tory Party members, currently numbering 150,000. It is as yet unclear whether an early election will be called, and the Brexit negotiations will be very different depending on who takes power by the end of the year.
This is made more difficult by Labour’s concurrent leadership crisis– there have been calls for Jeremy Corbyn to step down from the Labour Party, after he was heavily criticised by Tony Blair and Tim Farron; and for a new leadership election, and there have been a few shadow cabinet resignations . However, Trade Unions Leaders have come out in support of Corbyn in a joint statement, and there is currently a petition on 38 degrees imploring the Party to let him stay on.
The UK might also look very different Scotland, Northern Ireland and London all voted overwhelmingly to Remain, at odds with England and Wales. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called a summit in Edinburgh to try to ensure Scotland remains in the EU, and a new independence Referendum is highly likely. There is also talk of Northern Ireland holding a vote on reunification by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, but this has been denied by other leading politicians Theresa Villiers and Arlene Foster; and even the suggestion that London should attempt independence.
Meanwhile, Brexit campaign leaders have backtracked on key referendum pledges, suggesting that the number of immigrants in the UK is unlikely to decrease and that money currently given to the EU as membership fees would not be given to the NHS, as suggested by the ‘Brexit bus’.
The EU’s response so far has been that by delaying the A50 process, the UK has taken the European continent ‘hostage’, and will only increase instability. World markets continue to be volatile following a post-Brexit loss of $2.1tn, as the pound loses ground against the euro and dollar. Current predictions suggest that banks and homebuilders will be highest hit, but the markets did stabilise following the Bank of England’s pledge of £250bn of liquidity.

What might these changes mean for disabled people?

The Brexit Budget

Before the referendum, George Osborne announced that following a leave vote, he would cut public services to fill a black hole of £30bn created by leaving the Union. This would potentially include cutting the NHS budget, which is currently ring-fenced. At the time, Vote Leave dismissed these claims as ‘hysterical prophecies’. Osborne has been very quiet since the referendum and has not announced any new budget, but if this did come to pass it would be very hard on disabled people, who depend on government support. Even if nothing so drastic was proposed, the economic outlook for the UK is not very bright- its credit rating was downgraded to ‘negative’ on Friday, which will ultimately prolong austerity measures. The markets may recover, but another recession seems more and more likely.

Legal Protection

There is a huge web of EU legislation which protects people with disabilities. Brexit risks the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020, which set out areas of action including accessibility, participation, equality, and employment. This attempted to end discrimination in the workplace, and ensure equal access to goods and services. It would also help those with disabilities utilise all their rights as EU citizens, and help to provide quality community services including personal assistance. If successful, this would have been a landmark document for people with disabilities. There is also the question of whether the European Health Insurance Card Scheme will continue for UK citizens, which is a  lifeline allowing people to access free healthcare abroad via an NHS repayment scheme. The EU has been especially active in employment law- for example in the Working Time Directive, and declaring direct discrimination against the disabled by employers unlawful in the Employment Equality Directive 2000.
It is unclear whether these and other protections will still be in force, given that  the UK is in a fairly unique position as a dualist country. This means that whilst the UK remained a member of the EU, all legislation that was introduced was went through the entire legislative process independently of EU input. This means that all EU legislation is part of the UK’s legislative and constitutional framework and derives its legality by virtue of having Act of Parliament status. This makes it more likely that existing legislation introduced by the EU will continue to be enforced, but there remains the possibility that these protections will be repealed and replaced. Such changes would have a huge impact on disabled people, and touch on issues including education, employment, transport and assistive-technology.

Is EEA Status the future?

More recently, Boris Johnson, a key participant in the Leave campaign, has confirmed that he has no wish for the UK to be out of Europe, and potentially intends for the country to become an EEA member. This represents a halfway house, and would allow the UK to take back control over certain regulations, such as fisheries and agricultural policy. However, this is counterbalanced by the need to adhere to the ‘Four Freedoms’, including the free movement of people, and to continue to ratify most EU legislation. He does, however, seek to extract the UK legal system from EU legislation. How this would work in practice is as yet unclear. More imminently, the UK parliament will meet next week to make a decision on whether to leave the EU. They will presumably seek to ratify the referendum result, but do not have to as the vote only has advisory status in law. In essence, there is still a lot to be confirmed, and this uncertainty will understandably be disconcerting to a lot of disabled people.
We can only hope this will be resolved as soon, and disabled people will keep the legal protections they rely on to lead fulfilling and successful lives.

These views are my own and do not represent those of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Disability or Disability Rights UK. As far as I am aware, this post is accurate at the time of writing. I hope you enjoyed reading- please like, comment and share below. And keep those submissions coming in- we have extended our deadline to July 13!

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