Party Conference 2019

Labour conference fringe event 2019: Brexit and Public Services: Threat or Opportunity?

Held in partnership with the UK in a Changing EU.

In an event held in partnership with UK in a Changing Europe, our panel discussed whether leaving European Union would have a positive or negative impact on public services in the UK.


Stephen Kinnock MP, Member of the Brexit Select Committee
Sonia Sodha, Chief Leader Writer, The Observer
Professor Tim Bale, Deputy Director, The UK in a Changing Europe & Professor of Politics, Queen Mary University, London

Chair: Mary Ann Sieghart, Chair, Social Market Foundation

Stephen Kinnock said that evidence gathered by the Brexit Select Committee suggests the public sector is trying to put a positive spin on its preparedness for Brexit. In reality, public services sit at the intersection between the private and public sector and in the event of a no-deal exit, these are the inevitable pressure points. When it comes to the Labour Party’s proposals for state ownership of some of these key services, the Aberavon MP argued that the plans were entirely plausible even if the UK continued to adopt EU rules on state aid following its exit. Fanciful ideas of a wildly unregulated programme of state aid induced by a hard Brexit, meanwhile, were unfounded because Britain would shift from EU rules to WTO rules on state aid. 

So, is there an optimistic case to be made regarding Brexit and the delivery of public services? ‘I can’t think of a single opportunity regarding Brexit and public services’, Sonia Sodha said. The Leave campaign neatly packaged the link between Brexit and better public services, especially when it came to restricting immigration to ease pressure on services. The real story here, however, was the people who staff our public services, many of whom have come to the UK under EU Freedom of Movement rules. Their future looks uncertain and Sodha called on Labour to unequivocally back Remain to secure our public services.

For Tim Bale there are perhaps some opportunities for Britain’s exit from the EU. Leaving might open the door to a political conversation about something other than Brexit. And high up the priority list will be funding Britain’s public services. There could also be some opportunities for employers to train more domestic workers to staff our schools, hospitals, transport sector, and beyond. That’s because these employers have often looked for ready-trained workers from the EU in the past. That may no longer be a straightforward option if Freedom of Movement ends.

Our panellists all agreed on one thing above all: that the future of Britain’s public services would very much be defined by the type of deal the UK gets with the EU, if a deal is found at all.

Watch the full live stream of the event:


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