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PM’s Brexit deal rejected: What now for NGOs?

If you were not hiding from the world yesterday, you probably heard that Theresa May’s Brexit deal was rejected by parliament.

Bond worked hard in 2018 to obtain critical assurances for the UK development sector following Brexit, but there is still a long road ahead. In this post we summarise the current situation and our priorities for 2019. Where do we stand after yesterday’s result?

EU funding for UK INGOs

The UK is the second largest recipient of EU aid to CSOs. Any loss of access to funding for joint programming would be felt by the sector and those we seek to help, and would also undo the legacy of joined up working we have historically established with the EU.

In 2018, we secured a welcome commitment from the government to underwrite ECHO contracts for UK CSOs in the event of a no deal. But the underwriting only applies to contracts entered from August to March and where a UK NGO is the main partner.

Whatever the outcome, as the UK is a member of OECD, UK civil society will be still be eligible to apply for most funds working in “Least Developed Countries” (LDCs) and “Heavily Indebted Poor Countries” (HIPCs) that are external to the central European budget. That includes the European Development Fund (EDF), working in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, and Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI).

The European Commission caused concern last year by adding a disclaimer to funding contracts that could have discouraged UK organisations from applying and led to discrimination against them. Bond responded immediately and, thanks to pressure at the European level by secretary of state for international development, Penny Mordaunt, the UK’s legal position was clarified in the disclaimer.

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But in the event of a no deal, UK organisations will no longer be eligible for EDF or DCI funding in middle income countries. They will also not be able to access certain other funds such as the Facility Refugees in Turkey (FRIT) or Providing Humanitarian Assistance in Sahel Emergencies (PHASE).

This year, if there is a deal, the Bond network will work to ensure UK civil society can continue to access and contribute to critical European development funds when we leave the EU. However, in the event of a no deal we will continue to push for greater security for UK civil society.

We will also keep a close eye on ongoing negotiations for the 2021-2027, especially proposals to bring external funds such as the EDF into the central budget.

UK influence in Europe

Funding for the work our members do to help the world’s most vulnerable and marginalised people is not Bond’s only concern.

The UK has substantial development experience and some of the best implementers of humanitarian programmes in the world, many of which are Bond members. Loss of this experience in the EU will have a huge impact on European international cooperation. We are concerned that the UK government and civil society will no longer have a seat at the table to promote aid effectiveness, gender equality and prioritisation of the world’s most vulnerable and marginalised.

The future UK and EU partnership on development cooperation is unclear and will continue to be so until the future relationship is negotiated. Under a future deal, the UK will most likely still have influence at the European level, but under a “No Deal” such opportunities may be lost.

We welcome a recent guidance note by the UK government stating that it will push for the right of UK organisations to implement the programmes the UK funds through Europe. Bond and our members will continue to work to ensure this that this is adhered to and UK civil society also has a say in policy and strategic direction.

We will also continue to work through our membership of CONCORD, the European network of international development platforms, to ensure UK voice in Europe before Brexit and after. There will be an even more important role for pan-European civil society collaboration when we leave, and Bond is determined to ensure UK civil society continues to play its part.

DFID staff

Finally, we are concerned about recent reports that as many as 600 DFID staff may be seconded to other departments to prepare for the prospect of a “No Deal”. Even if temporary, this is likely to have an immediate and negative impact on the operation of UK development assistance and countries in the Global South.

We urgently need more clarity on the proposed scale, phasing and duration of any secondments, and details of how DFID intends to ensure this does not disrupt the department’s essential work. Priority should be given to ensure the UK’s work to support the most marginalised and deliver the Sustainable Development Goals are not harmed.

Discuss the UK’s future relationship with the EU at our session on “Life after Brexit” at the Bond Conference 18-19 March.