Like many Europeans, the EUD woke up last Friday to the news that the majority of the UK’s people had expressed the wish for their country to leave the European Union (EU). We respect the right of the people to exercise the right to vote that they had been granted. We are very saddened and very much regret this decision as we are deeply concerned that the social position of UK Deaf and hard of hearing people might worsen in the aftermath of the “Brexit”: Numerous EU policies have had a positive impact on our lives and reinforced the protection of our rights, such as the EU Employment Directive, the Web Accessibility Directive and the European Accessibility Act, which is currently being negotiated. It is unclear if the UK Deaf community will be able to (continuously) benefit from these achievements. Furthermore, the fact that UK universities and companies may not be able anymore to benefit from EU funding after having left the Union could have serious consequences for the Deaf and hard of hearing community.
We very strongly believe that together – with the United Kingdom – we would be in a stronger position to advocate for disability-inclusive policies for Deaf and hard of hearing persons in Europe and thus wish to continue our good cooperation with the British Deaf Association (BDA). This is why we whole-heartedly welcome its intent to continue working with EUD to “make sure that the rights of Deaf people are properly heard and protected.” (http://limpingchicken.com/2016/06/27/deaf-news-bda-pledges-to-work-to-ensure-uk-deaf-people-stay-part-of-european-union-of-the-deaf/ )
However, the EU referendum result is not legally binding, so in theory UK Parliament could ignore the will of the people by deciding to stay in the EU. The EU vote was an “advisory referendum”, as opposed to “binary” referendum, which has a fixed outcome. But choosing this option would come at a high political cost and seems thus unlikely. If the UK Parliament decides to follow the result of the referendum, the UK Government will have to tell the EU that it wants to leave by invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union for the first time in history. Article 50 is the legal mechanism for the withdrawal of a member state from the EU. The use of Article 50 will start the two-year process of exit talks over UK’s political divorce from the 28-member bloc. At the end of the two-year period, the UK will be expelled from the EU, if the negotiations have not been concluded, unless the Member states unanimously decide to extend the deadline. This week, David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister and said that his successor will decide when to trigger Article 50.
These negotiations with the EU and its remaining member states on the withdrawal will set the way in which the UK will continue its cooperation with the EU. The new status of the UK will also determine the membership of the BDA within EUD, whose membership categories are fixed in its statutes. Until this negotiation process is finalised, the UK will continue to be a member state of the EU and all the legislation that gives effect to EU law will stay in place. This also means that the BDA will continue to be a full member of EUD until then and we hope that we will be able to fully continue our partnership with EUD’s founding member.
Finally, we wish to urge the parties in the UK and the EU that would be involved in these exit negotiations to come to a fair agreement that will not further disadvantage Deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK and to consult with the BDA to this regard at all stages of the negotiations.
You can find the press release of the European Disability Forum on the “Brexit” here: http://www.edf-feph.org/Page_Generale.asp?DocID=13855&thebloc=34462