Do we know what Brexit means for children?
The outcome of the ‘Brexit’ referendum in 2016 has triggered the single most significant constitutional shake up in living memory. Extricating ourselves from the European Union (EU) will have huge economic, legal, social and cultural consequences, some of which we are just beginning to get to grips with whilst others remain totally unknown.
I appreciate that the negotiating team have 1001 issues to deal with but the ongoing absence of children and young people’s rights, their welfare and safety from the debate is worrying. They aren’t in a position to stand up for themselves, they are reliant on adults to advocate on their behalf. We need to secure a robust legal framework that protects their best interests; EU laws and regulations on everything from toy standards and TV advertising to environmental protections and food safety standards directly benefit children’s lives. There are also dozens of EU instruments which impact on child protection as well.
Immigration was writ large in the referendum and two years on remains at the forefront of negotiations (alongside elusive trade deals). Despite this focus, life changing questions remain unanswered for children who live here but were born elsewhere or who were born here but their parents were born elsewhere. The Children’s Commissioner has rightly highlighted the impact of this uncertainty on children’s well-being whilst the Coram Legal Centre have also sought to draw attention to the immigration status of children living with relatives under the provisions of Dublin III arrangements and EU-born children in the care of the state.
We still don’t know if Brexit will curtail young people’s opportunities to work, travel and study overseas, or if the countless EU nationals we rely on to keep our public services, including schools and hospitals, going will be able to stay here. Perhaps the more pressing question is, will they want to stay given the spike in hate crime since the referendum? Will the European Social Fund, which has been an important source of funding in these austere times, be replaced as per the recommendations of an inquiry by the Work and Pensions Select Committee and what will the jurisdiction of our family courts be? An impact assessment on these decisions and some assurances from the relevant government departments would be most welcome, even at this late stage.
Children remain bystanders in the Brexit process, they didn’t get a say in the referendum and remain powerless as politicians and negotiators shape their future. I would urge the government to engage with children, to listen to their concerns and offer them meaningful opportunities to input into the future direction of our country. After all, they will live with the consequences of this collective decision longer than any of us.