BLOG: The clock is ticking on Brexit; charities need to speak up

Brexit is a thorny and divisive issue. On both sides there is anger, fear and disquiet; at the result, at the language used in the media, at the pace of implementation. None of us know who is right in this debate because we do not have a crystal ball and we cannot see what’s to come.

It appears to be agreed by all political shades that the result of the referendum will be ‘respected’ and we will be leaving the EU. It remains to be seen whether the rhetoric will turn into action. We also know that the ‘will of the people’ is fickle and changeable even if MPs, save for a smattering of individuals on all sides, currently seem to be prisoner to the phrase.

But it is for our parliament to determine what happens next. This shouldn’t mean charities should sit back; quite the opposite. The CFG annual conference Brexit panel unanimously called for charities to make representations to MPs now. The collective complaint was that we are not speaking up enough for our beneficiaries. I implore you to do so. If your beneficiaries will be prejudiced by the restriction of movement of workers, or the flight of EU grants, speak up. Tell MPs. That is your job.

Equally if there are opportunities for your individual charity – highlight them, speak up. We will keep pushing for a Brexit that delivers the best possible operating environment for all charities so that they can effectively serve their beneficiaries. Before the referendum, CFG took no position on whether Brexit was a good or bad thing – that remains the case. It is not our role to do so. Of course we pointed out the risks and opportunities for the sector as a whole, as well as particular hot spots for sub-sectors.

As Brexit negotiations precede, CFG sees the interests of the sector at risk of falling by the wayside. Some have argued that to make specific representations on behalf of charities is inappropriate because the economy should take precedent. But if we’re not in the mix of voices, currently dominated by business interests, then we should not be surprised if the deal struck favours business alone.

We should not be so naïve as to think other sectors are not pushing for their own special interests. It is their job, and ours, to ensure politicians are given all the information they need about all stakeholders. It is the politicians’ job to make decisions and trade-offs. We must not self-censor. I argue that it’s CFG’s job to speak up for charities and to make arguments that consider the long term effects Brexit may have on our sector.

It is also our job to reach out to those leading the Brexit charge – even if their political opinions and desires may not match ours. It is that thinking that leads us to stick our head above the parapet and say that based on the evidence thus far, the lesser long-term risk for charities lies in a ‘clean’ exit – one that leaves open and in the hands of our government issues which will dictate our operating environment. One that enables charities to argue the case for EU workers, that enables things like irrecoverable VAT to be challenged effectively and one that tries to ensure we are not saddled with the worst of both worlds.

Things may change, and if they do, CFG’s position will reflect that; we always strive to offer a balanced view based on the evidence – even when that may be less popular. The clock is ticking. I urge all charities not to leave their representations to the last minute.

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