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Unintended consequences – Brexit’s effect on aid agencies

3 May 20190 comments

The uncertainty over Brexit is playing havoc with NGOs in the United Kingdom that employ European staff that have links with other European agencies.

British NGOs received another blow to their hopes of securing European Union funding post-Brexit recently, after Brussels overturned the legal justification for funding humanitarian groups based outside the bloc.

Media in Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, reported that the European Commission’s humanitarian arm, ECHO, had written to ten Swiss NGOs in December 2018, informing them that they would be cut off from funding.

According to the reports, an internal review had found that the legal basis for funding NGOs outside the EU, — was now deemed insufficient.

Meanwhile, many staff members working at NGOs in the United Kingdom are worried about their future as the country gears up to leave the European Union.

Meanwhile, the aid organisations themselves are struggling to prepare for potential disruption amid ongoing political uncertainty.
The nature of aid work, which means some staff spend significant amounts of time each year working overseas, creates additional problems in securing residency rights.

NGOs are reporting they are supporting staff by keeping up to date with political developments and sharing updates.

Many are offering guidance and help for those who want to apply for settled status in the UK, or for citizenship.

Others say they have helped decipher confusing government press releases or organised sessions for staff with immigration lawyers.

With the political situation changing by the day, it is difficult to provide EU staff with detailed and up-to-date information that may be relevant to them.

Many organisations appear to be erring on the side of caution and do not want to panic their staff.

Aside from issues affecting staff, Brexit may have a disastrous effect on the work some NGOs do.

A number of British NGOs have opened European offices in the run-up to Brexit, in an effort to guarantee continued access to EU funding.

And with large proportions of their talent pool coming from the EU, organisations are worried about how to recruit people with the right expertise after Brexit.

The most recent political impasses increase the risk of a cliff-edge Brexit, in which the transition period that was expected to give the country — and its NGOs — two years to adjust to the deal and agree on a future relationship would be lost. Promises made on development cooperation in the agreement would also be torn up.

Among the most immediate issues for the aid community are access to funding, either EU or UK – with the potential for a shortfall if they are suddenly cut off.

Whatever the final outcome, UK organisations will remain eligible for EU funding for work in least-developed and highly indebted countries, due to the country’s membership of the OECD.

But, in a no-deal scenario they would not be able to apply for funding for programs elsewhere.

In addition, existing contracts with the EU could be cut off, although the UK government has agreed to step in and fund some of these.


Laurie Nowell 

AMES Australia Senior Journalist