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What does Brexit mean for Christian Aid?

The UK is due to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019. Deal or no deal, that has implications for Christian Aid. Head of Programme Development and Funding Dominic Brain explains what these could be. 


Even though Brexit has rarely been out of the headlines since that watershed vote on 23 June 2016, one big question for Christian Aid has barely registered on the radar. And that is, what impact will Brexit have on the world’s poorest people?

As a charity, Christian Aid could not take a position to support either Leave or Remain during the referendum. At that time legal guidance meant it was difficult for us to argue one way or another, but either way it is the choices made by the UK and other governments that will make the difference for the world’s poorest people. And that is still the case even after Brexit. We have a responsibility to consider the impact of this major political decision on the poorest in the world and on our own work too. Here’s where things stand…

Brexit text

The impact has already been felt

Financially we have already seen a negative impact on our programmes. The purchasing power of the generous donations from our supporters and donors in the UK went down following the referendum, as the pound weakened against the US dollar. The dollar is the currency spent directly by many of our programmes or that local currencies track. This means that for every £1 million raised, we now only receive around $1.3 million where before we got around $1.5 million.

Why is the EU important to Christian Aid and development?

As well as being the largest free trade area, the EU is also one of the biggest donors worldwide. It funds development and humanitarian projects in the poorest countries on Earth. We have 30 years’ experience of using EU funds in our programmes with partner organisations around the world. In fact, in 2017 around 10% of our total income came from EU grants – around £10.5 million.

Last year, this supported our emergency response in Bangladesh following floods and cyclones, the protection of human rights in Haiti and increasing energy access and resilience of communities in Burkina Faso. These programmes are truly transformational. Once outside the EU, UK-based charities such as Christian Aid will no longer be eligible to access EU funding.

The EU is not only a big donor, it also works in parts of the world where UK government aid funding does not go. It has considerable influence and status – due to its trade links and access to the EU Single Market. So, it is especially important for our Latin America and Caribbean programme and large parts of Asia and Africa.
Losing access to that funding will mean a big reduction in our work in some parts of the world and an overall reduction in our programme budgets.

Managing the impact

We are working on managing the challenges ahead of Brexit, through a transition period (if there is one) and following Brexit. We have partnerships with a wide range of donors to diversify our funding and sustain our work. These include the United Nations, the Global Fund organisation (for our health work), and with other governments and foundations.

Does Brexit now mean the EU is a closed door? 

Not entirely. We will seek other ways to access EU funding for our programmes. Christian Aid operates in three EU member-states – the UK, Ireland and Spain, where we engage with supporters, churches and governments. When the UK leaves, Christian Aid as a ‘family’ is still in the EU. Christian Aid Ireland would be able to access funding from the EU. We have already secured two small EU grants: Christian Aid Ireland and the EU will be jointly supporting new programmes focused on human rights in Colombia and El Salvador.

Are there concerns about existing projects funded by the EU?

Many of these run beyond March 2019. We had significant success with new awards in the past 18 months. These new projects are currently being implemented. Our understanding is that they will continue to be funded until they are completed. A good example is the Breaking the Barriers programme that is part of our Harvest Appeal for 2018.

A commitment to honour the funding of existing projects was made in the joint UK-EU political communication in Autumn 2017. But it is subject to the final legal agreement. So, we do have concerns. Over the summer of 2018, with the political debate warming up, there are suggestions that existing commitments would not be honoured if there is no deal. Christian Aid has been in regular contact with the UK Government to share our concerns.

Breaking the Barriers - Yvonne Murindiwa

Breaking the Barriers - a Christian Aid project funded by the EU

Are there issues beyond funding?

Yes. As the EU is a major trading bloc, the issues of trade and development are important. Following the withdrawal agreement next year comes a crucial second stage. This is to agree terms on the UK’s new trading relationship with Europe, and permission to arrange new trade deals with other countries. It is critical to tackle poverty through trade as well as aid. With our partners in the Trade Justice Movement, Christian Aid is calling for the UK to have the best ‘trade for development’ policy in the world. This means bringing existing and future trade agreements into line with international human rights and environmental commitments and Southern countries’ development agendas.

With the political debate warming up, there are suggestions that existing commitments would not be honoured if there is no deal.

Looking to the future

There are many big questions about the UK’s post-Brexit future: how will the EU and UK co- operate on climate change? Will the UK start to roll back environmental and climate change protections, or champion even greater efforts? Will the UK’s already unsavoury debate about migrants and refugees lead to higher walls, or will the UK do even more for those in need of international protection? Is the UK destined to be an ‘offshore tax haven’? How will the UK Government reallocate Brexit savings and still meet its obligations to international development targets?

A UK outside the EU could be more progressive in certain areas of aid, development and climate change, if it chooses. The EU may be more ambitious in others, such as financial transparency, freed from the UK’s aggressive protection of its financial services. One thing is certain: we face many choices and negotiations in the years ahead whatever the political context. Christian Aid will continue to stand together with those fighting against poverty.