The charity sector’s failure to campaign in the run-up to the Brexit referendum has left it in a good position to speak out in the debate about how Brexit should be handled, according to Sir Stuart Etherington.
Speaking at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ regulation conference in London yesterday, the umbrella body’s chief executive said it was vital that charities made their voices heard in negotiations about how Britain should leave the European Union.
He said they were more likely to be seen as neutral parties because they were reluctant to campaign before the referendum.
"There’s been a lot of regret about the fact that charities fell into the trap of self-policing during the referendum debate," Etherington said. "I share that view.
"But our relative quiet then does provide us with an opportunity now.
"Almost because we were less involved in that campaign and weren’t seen as being partisan in that debate, we have more space to raise issues in the interest of people and causes we support during the process."
He said charities were more likely to be trusted to be focusing solely on their beneficiaries rather than having a political goal.
And he said that, although much of the debate about the possible impact of Brexit on the sector had so far focused on funding, which he admitted was important, charities needed to consider the impact it would have on their charities if some EU legislation was removed after Brexit.
"Some people cite the volume of regulation as a source of irritation with the EU, but it’s critical that voluntary organisations’ experience is listened to here, because one person’s unnecessary rule is another person’s vital safeguard," Etherington said.
He warned that the European Union Withdrawal Bill, which will transfer EU laws into UK legislation when the UK leaves the EU, would turn the laws into secondary legislation, which would allow government to amend or withdraw it with little or no consultation from parliament.
"It’s vital that crucial protections for vulnerable people or the environment are not lost or watered down," he said, adding the sector wanted to ensure there was democratic scrutiny of any changes.