Why we’re backing a People’s Vote

By Jon Skewes, Director for Policy, Employment Relations and Communications on 14 June 2018 Brexit

Today the RCM has backed the People’s Vote campaign. This calls for a public vote on the final Brexit deal, once the details of that deal are known. We believe the people should have the last word on Brexit, not politicians at Westminster.

The choice would be between accepting Theresa May’s deal and leaving the EU on those terms, or rejecting the deal she reaches and staying in the European Union.

The vote that took place two years ago was won narrowly by Leave. But since then many of the things they promised – for instance that the UK would hold all the cards in the negotiations – have proved false. Added to that, many negative things have happened that nobody foresaw or which were disputed at the time – like the big rise we have seen in the number of NHS midwives from elsewhere in the EU leaving the UK and a near-total collapse in the number arriving.

People have the right to look at the deal that is reached by Theresa May later this year and decide for themselves whether or not it meets the promises made back in 2016. Nobody back then could have known what the deal would look like because we still don’t know now, two years on.

Someone will have to decide on the deal – to accept or reject – and the RCM believes that that should be the public through a people’s vote, not politicians in the voting lobbies of Westminster.

Why should this matter to the RCM, some of you may be asking? Well, it matters a lot, and let me give you a couple of example why it does.

The first reason is NHS staffing. In the last 12 months, just 33 midwives arrived in the UK from elsewhere in Europe. That figure used to be 100s every year. At the same time, the number leaving the UK has shot up. So, whilst just 33 came to the UK, 234 left! And this at time when we’re something like 3,500 midwives short.

Fewer midwives adds to the pressure on all maternity staff and means the maternity care provided to all women suffers. It means that many of the midwives we train will just be filling gaps left by departing EU midwives, not adding to the size of the workforce and improving care.

And midwives from the rest of the EU already here make a big contribution now, with almost 1,500 of them working in the NHS, providing care for tends of thousands of women every year. Their status in the UK will be weaker in the future.

And it’s a problem not isolated to midwives. Around 10,000 hospital doctors and 20,000 nurses in the NHS just in England are from elsewhere in the EU. Add in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and it will be far more. Many of them are leaving and fewer are arriving because Brexit makes them feel unwelcome and will give them much less security over their right to be here.

There are also British midwives working in the EU whose status is under threat from Brexit, and future opportunities for them to move easily to work in another EU country will be severely curtailed if not eliminated by the likely outcome of the talks. All these concerns were breezily waved away during the 2016 referendum campaign, but now seem likelier than ever.

This is not what the Leave campaign said would happen, so it is absolutely right that the people get the last word in deciding whether the deal that Theresa May negotiates matches what they were told would happen during the EU referendum campaign two years ago.

The second reason it matters is the definition of a midwife. Lots of the rules about what a person needs to know and have experience of to be a midwife are set at the EU level. Training requirements, for example, are agreed between EU member states. This means that a person trained in one part of the EU can practise in another with minimal barriers. Post-Brexit, we would either have to stick to EU standards without any input into what they are, or our standards would inevitably start to drift apart from and be incompatible with the EU’s standards. The EU provides us with solid professional protections, and prevents a deregulating government that may want to water down midwifery standards from doing so.

It may well be that the people would vote to accept the deal and leave on those terms, which would mean the exit deal would have the endorsement of the people. Equally, the people may reject the deal and vote to stay in the EU – as they are entitled to do. Whichever they chose, the decision would rest with the people, where it should.

To find out more about the People’s Vote campaign, visit their website: https://www.peoples-vote.uk/