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What does Brexit mean for disabled students?

Friday 15-07-2016 - 13:33

The EU referendum result will have wide-reaching implications for everyone, here is hopefully some useful information about the potential effects on Disabled students.

The EU referendum result just two weeks ago has clearly raised a number of concerns in a whole manner of respects – from the spike in xenophobic and racist incidents many have experience particularly since the result; to concerns about the state of the economy and what this means for all of our futures; to concern about what leaving the EU might mean in terms of lost regulations and laws which offer considerable protections. 

 

Many disabled students and student officers have been in touch with me since the result to ask about what the implications for disabled students might be, and so I was keen to address as much as we can at this stage. 

 

Firstly – a reassurance. As yet, no formal process has been activated to leave the EU, and so EU laws and regulations apply to the UK just as they did before the referendum. In order to leave the EU – and for the laws to no longer apply – the UK must activate ‘article 50’, which kick-starts a two year process of negotiating a new relationship between the UK and the EU. At the end of this two year period, the UK and the EU can agree to extend this process further still. In any case, it means that there will be no formal change for two years at the very least. 

 

Secondly, and relatedly – a challenge. Because nothing formally changes, we would not expect organisations, such as our universities and colleges, to use ‘Brexit’ as an excuse for any changes in the support that they offer to disabled students. We would be hugely concerned should we start to see this happen, and would want to challenge it in the fullest terms. There is no reason that this should happen, and so I would ask you all to get in touch if Brexit is being used as an excuse for cuts or changes to the support offered, in this way. 

 

And thirdly – the future. We know that a significant amount of UK equalities legislation is supported and articulated through EU law, and so there is a real concern that upon the EU, there will be a real vacuum here, some of which is outlined in a briefing by the Trade Union Congress. These include the enforceability of the United Nations Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities, which the UK has ratified, but which only has force of law due to the EU. The UK is also currently bound by the rulings of the European Court of Justice, some of which have affected and strengthened disability rights. What will not be affected by Brexit is existing UK legislation such as the Human Rights Act 1998, nor the European Convention of Human Rights - which is separate from the EU. 

 

We as the disabled students’ campaign need to be at the centre of the campaign to ensure that where EU laws which support disabled students in the UK are lost, they are matched with UK legislation which is equal or stronger to this. I will be working to meet with other disability organisations and activists over the coming weeks and months to ensure that we work effectively as a student and wider civil society movement to ensure that disabled students do not lose out in this way from Brexit – we must be clear and resolute in our refusal to let that happen. 

I know you might well have further questions about what Brexit might mean for students at your institution – and so would encourage you to get in touch if so by emailing me on james.elliott@nus.org.uk.

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