Civil society groups, particularly charities, are thankfully becoming engaged with the possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. But it is disappointing that they did not give this very serious issue the same level of concern much earlier.
The publication of the government’s report on Operation Yellowhammer has awoken many in the sector with its prediction of economic uncertainty, traffic chaos, food supply problems, medicine shortages and so much more. There is also the prospect of uncertainty for EU nationals from other members states living in the UK, and UK citizens living throughout the EU, not to mention civil unrest, hurtful xenophobia and worse.
It is vital that charities don’t focus only on the prospect of immediate disaster and start talking more about what the UK might look like in five or ten years’ time, after the asset-stripping of British industry has taken place.
The loss of access to the EU’s international trade deals will cause major economic disruption for many years. The imposition of tariffs will result in higher food prices and lost jobs. Critical supplies, labour for critical services and the rights of citizens will all be at risk. Austerity will be deeper and will last for many years.
The poorest and the most disadvantaged communities will be hit hardest. Poverty will grow. Inequality will increase.
Many of the conditions that encouraged some to vote leave because they felt that they and their communities had been left behind and that the political system was not interested in their lives and those of their families, will be made worse. Cynicism and despair could grow while expectations and hope are dashed. This could offer the opportunity for far-right political activists and agitators to wreak havoc.
Charities should be aware of these prospects and be deeply worried by them. They must be ready to stand up and be counted by opposing a no-deal Brexit. Frankly, this should be higher on their agenda than preparing for the potential consequences of no deal. Time is short. There should be no delay in joining the campaign.
However, this opposition should be aimed not only at no deal, but at any deal that would have anegative impact on society, the economy and the rights of our fellow citizens. The alternatives might be presented in the media and by some politicians as either no deal or a deal as if there is only one deal option or this is a binary choice. There might be other options for a deal, although it's likely that any deal will be a variant of the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May, and this agreement would have negative economic outcomes.
The other option would be to be hold a referendum, then revoke Article 50 and seek to reform the EU while addressing the social and economic inequalities in the UK.
Charities should recognise and reflect this in their policy positions and campaigning strategies. I urge them to so do.
My final plea to colleagues across the charity sector is to approach the Brexit issue with boldness, resolution and, above all, with a prime focus on their beneficiaries and communities ahead of any personal or institutional interest.
The next few weeks are going to be critical for the future of the country and every community, so charities should not be found to have been wanting.
John Tizard (@johntizard) is an independent strategic adviser and commentator