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13th February 2023

Brexit’s third birthday – three things that still grind my gears

On Brexit’s third birthday, we consider the UK’s first steps outside the EU and ask why we’re putting up with less than we had before
Brexit’s third birthday – three things that still grind my gears
Photo: NI74 @ Wikimedia Commons

The United Kingdom withdrew from the European Union slightly over three years ago, on January 31 2020. To reflect upon this anniversary, I want to reflect on three particularly noteworthy consequences of the exit.

One of the most serious repercussions of Brexit is the government’s threat to withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). Passed in 1953, the convention was amongst efforts to prevent further humanitarian atrocities following the Second World War. Ironically, the UK was the first country to ratify it. In 2000, the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force, incorporating the ECHR into UK law, allowing UK courts to manage cases themselves rather than sending them to Strasbourg.

Yet, despite the act handing significant responsibility to the UK, consecutive Conservative governments have been determined to withdraw from the ECHR and replace this with a “British” Bill of Rights. This proposed law reform intends to restore “British values”, as goes the common pro-Brexit narrative.

Firstly, it must be questioned what is remotely “British” about human rights. Human rights are ‘human’ and not particular to a specific state or culture.

Secondly, by removing the Human Rights Act 1998, there will no longer be an accountability system. In the case of corruption or miscarriages of justice, an alternate body may step in to restore the law. Having the same body in charge of court rulings as well as the law could lead to dangerous abuses of power. This is a valid consideration given the political climate of our country, for example, in 2019 our Prime Minister attempted to shut down parliament to facilitate the passing of new Brexit bills – a blatantly unconstitutional move.

Thirdly, the terms of the Bill are clearly lacking. The threshold for what is counted as human rights abuse is higher, meaning that more offences may be acquitted. Such would facilitate the deportation of asylum seekers and the protection of British overseas troops from legal action against war crimes. Yet, the bill not only affects extreme cases of conflict and displacement but also everyday life. For example, the protection of workplace conditions would be threatened, given the bill’s omission of important elements regarding freedom of expression, meaning that someone could be unfairly dismissed for speaking up against their employer.

The removal of section three of the Human Rights Act, entitling courts to interpret legislation as deemed appropriate, would set laws much more rigidly. The interpretation of the Rent Act, granting gay partners the same rights for evictions as their heterosexual counterparts, would not have been possible without section three, and so its removal can be said to put LGBTQ+ rights at risk.

The Bill of Rights Bill is objected to by the Law Society, the most significant law body in England and Wales, and humanitarian organisations such as Amnesty International.

From the perspective of a student, the new international travel restrictions are another significant loss – greatly limiting our educational experiences. In particular, I lament the loss of our participation in the Erasmus+ programme; one of the greatest assets of EU membership. Set up in 1987, it allows students to exchange in more than 37 EU counties, at over 4000 universities and institutions.

Following Brexit, the UK was offered continued participation in the programme. They refused. Instead, the government introduced the “Turing Scheme”, named after Manchester’s very own Alan Turing. This, however, is blatantly sub-par compared to Erasmus+.

Firstly, it is not an exchange programme, with only British students being allowed to travel, and no students from abroad received in return. Being one-sided and not engaging in reciprocal cultural connections, it is rather isolationist. Exaggerations and claims of “Global Britain” are published on the scheme’s website, however, perhaps this should more appropriately be called “Visiting Britain”. Furthermore, the need to now acquire visas for most destinations adds additional bureaucracy and complications for British students.

Secondly, the Turing Scheme lacks broader participation, whereas Erasmus+ not only caters for students but offers placements and training programmes for staff. Furthermore, it invests in research connections and educational projects across countries, granting, in 2019, €56.6 million to the UK. This all acts to ultimately enrich the whole educational experience for students, however, the Turing Scheme is missing this.

Thirdly, Erasmus+ covers all costs, whereas the Turing Scheme is decentralised, meaning individual universities and institutions are expected to organise funding themselves by applying for government grants and reaching agreements over fees with their overseas partners. This means there is less overall financial guarantee and security.

This is not to say that the Turing Scheme is ‘bad’ to any extent, or that it does not provide some excellent opportunities. However, it is just not as good as the Erasmus+ programme.

A third area, which may seem trivial compared to the other two, is the introduction of new international shipping charges. International shipping charges don’t only affect businesses, but anyone who uses Etsy, Depop, or other online marketplaces will be subject to these extra shipping charges. Similarly, if you buy from an online shop only operating in Europe, you will have to pay. If you have relatives or friends in the continent and would like to send a birthday gift or other personal parcel, you again will have to pay.

New UK guidelines for receiving parcels from the EU began on January 1 2021. These include having to pay an eight-pound handling fee before even being allowed to obtain the parcel. Additionally, depending on the value of the contents and from where it was sent, there may be additional VAT and Customs Duties. For example, abolishing the “Low Value Consignment Relief”, means that goods up to £15 are no longer absolved of import VAT. However, variations on whether it is a business transaction or gift are subject, with the latter being exempt from VAT where the value of the item is £39 or less.

EU guidelines for parcels from the UK started on July 1 and are equally convoluted. However, delving into these details may be spared. The point is that Brexit has led to a whole heap of jargon and complicated rules, limiting the possibilities for shopping and posting. Our pockets are being drained just a little bit more, and frankly, there is nothing more heart-wrenching than buying an item that you love just to find out it has extortionate shipping costs!

The bottom line is this. Brexit is not only about economics and statistics. It also has everyday human implications. Three years after the withdrawal gives us an opportune moment to again reflect on what we have let ourselves into. There are many other things which also deserved due mention in this article yet were not permitted for insufficiency of words. However, if this article has prompted your interest just slightly, I urge you to read up on the topic and to continue informing yourself.

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