EU Referendum: What do Professional Bodies Think?

The European Union referendum on whether the UK should continue to be a Member State of the EU will take place on 23 June. Here we provide some food for thought on arguments being put forward for and against the proposition. We encourage anyone working or volunteering in professional bodies to share your thoughts on this important issue here.

Economic Issues

The International Monetary Fund recently announced that leaving the EU may be disruptive as a prolonged period of uncertainty could weigh on investment and business confidence. Analysis by the Treasury argues that the UK may not be better off leaving the union under the feasible alternatives and that the productivity of the economy could be damaged.

Proponents of a ‘Brexit’ argue that leaving the EU may free the economy from bureaucratic ‘red-tape’ emanating from Brussels and allow the UK to pursue trade deals with other countries. They also argue that the savings from the UK’s contribution to the EU budget may be used to fund healthcare and other public services.

These are generalised assessments from international and national organisations. Whether the outcome of the referendum will have far reaching consequences for the professional body sector specifically and the professionals they represent is another question.

The Sector’s Reaction

According to PARN research, there are over 800 professional bodies representing over 8 million professionals in the UK – some 25% of the workforce. The professional body sector is composed of very distinct organisations and a large array of different professions. Therefore the referendum’s outcome will have a differential effect on the sector. Here, we map out how professional bodies are reacting to the impending referendum.

A quick scour of the internet reveals that professional bodies are dealing with the looming EU referendum in two discernible ways:  some professional bodies remain apolitical or neutral while only one professional body publicly endorses the UK’s EU membership.

The three professional bodies we noticed adopting a neutral stance are: the Chartered Banker Institute, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP). The Chartered Banker Institute believes that having an official stance is beyond its responsibility as a professional body and will let its members decide for themselves, an approach the ICAEW and CSP are also following.

Surveying Membership Opinion

Some professional bodies have conducted their own surveys to canvas opinions from their members. The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management decided to survey its membership because much of the legislation and policy that provides the framework within which they work comes from the EU according to their Chief Executive, Sally Hayns. They found that 87% of members believe leaving the EU will negatively impact their sector and profession. CIEEM are in the process of developing an official position on the EU referendum, with Sally Hayns stating: “Being in the EU has been good for the management of the natural environment in the UK. If we leave the EU there is a lot of work to be done to establish the same or a better level of environmental protection. Any period of uncertainty is likely to lead to further loss to biodiversity.”

Another survey conducted by the Chartered Insurance Institute shows that the margins are much tighter within its membership:  only a slight majority (50.87%) of financial advisers are in support of continued UK membership of the EU.  This finding may be because a large proportion of financial advisors believe a ‘Brexit’ would allow the financial services industry to escape regulation stemming from the EU. On the other hand, others may recognise that because the UK’s financial services are so deeply integrated with the rest of Europe, with numerous financial firms operating freely across the 28-member bloc, membership of the EU is extremely important for the industry.

Better In?

Taking a slightly more decisive stance, the Institution of Engineering and Technology wrote a report on the subject outlining that its sector will be negatively affected in the event of discontinued membership of the EU. The Institution states that the UK is a beneficiary from EU funding for scientific and engineering research. Therefore, leaving the EU may reduce funding by 10% if it is not replenished by the savings that the UK will re-accrue from its contributions to the EU. At present, a quarter of engineering companies hire EU workers because of the freedom of movement of workers in the EU. It still remains unclear whether this ability to hire EU workers will be impinged upon if the UK does decide to leave the EU.

Only the Royal College of Midwives publicly endorses UK membership of the EU, stating that remaining in the union is better for public health services, women and midwives. The Chief Executive, Cathy Warwick said: “EU benefits include equal pay for women, a guarantee that pregnant women get paid time off to attend antenatal appointments, minimum holiday entitlements, maternity rights and protection for those working part-time.”  If the UK were to leave the EU, there would be no guarantee that these rights would remain in force. In a similar vein to the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the College stated: “There are over 33,000 midwives and nurses from other EU countries working in the NHS” and added: “EU rules mean that they must have training and skills equal to UK trained staff. This helps to ensure high standards and good quality care in our NHS.”

What are your thoughts on the EU referendum? How will professional bodies be affected? Share your thoughts below!

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