Chartered Institute
of Linguists

The Brexit effect

At the end of 2018, CIOL members voiced their concerns and hopes for Brexit whatever happens on 29 March. Deborah Butler outlines the results

The likely impact of the UK’s departure from the European Union is a major consideration for a large number of CIOL members. At the time of going to press, the form that this departure is to take was still uncertain, as Parliament had rejected the Prime Minister’s deal amid growing demands for a second referendum. As one member put it: “It’s not over until the fat lady sings.”

In December 2018, CIOL held a snap survey to see if members’ concerns about Brexit had changed since our 2016 survey, and to assess the effect of the referendum result over the last 2.5 years. The survey lasted for one week and 583 members responded. Not surprisingly, the largest group of respondents (39%) was that of UK nationals living in the UK, followed by EU nationals living in the UK (18.6%). Among the other survey participants, 12% hold dual UK/EU nationality and live in the UK and 11% are UK nationals living in another EU country.

Impact of the referendum result

The survey began with a broad question asking members to rate the impact the referendum result has already had on their business or work. More than two-fifths (42%) indicated that the impact has been negative or very negative, with only 8% reporting a positive impact (see chart opposite). Outlining the reasons for this, 24% said it was a result of their concerns about the future after Brexit, 28% said it was due to developments beyond their control, and 33% said it was due to both of these elements. Although 19% said there had been no impact on their business or work as yet, some said they feared negative repercussions after the UK leaves the EU.

Those living in the UK noted an alarming change in attitude towards non-UK nationals. One lamented: “The increasing xenophobia which is manifested on a daily basis in the UK in acts of hatred and ignorance aimed at foreigners generally, creating a climate in which many people who previously found the UK a pleasant place to live in or visit are now choosing to move away and stay away. Foreign friends of mine in the UK are leaving. British friends of mine abroad are seeking (often already obtained) foreign citizenship.”

Members outside the UK reported benefitting from the falling value of the pound. However, the survey revealed that concerns about the future after Brexit are highest among UK nationals living in an EU country – 17% higher than average.

Going into greater detail about the types of changes respondents had experienced as a result of the referendum outcome alone, 22% reported a loss of business during the past two years. This was as high as 36% for dual UK/EU nationals living in the UK.

This was particularly worrying as many respondents feared the situation would get worse after Brexit. One commented: “Linguists’ salaries and rates seem to be relatively low compared to other European countries but the other problem is that the UK doesn’t seem to attract many language service companies already and Brexit may make things even worse.”

In terms of the changes members have made to mitigate or capitalise on the impact, 17.5% said they had undergone training to improve their skills. Those living in the UK seem to feel particular pressure to up their offer in order to compete in a new market outside the EU, as the numbers upskilling were highest among respondents in this group.

A significant number of people have changed their customer base in terms of where clients are located. Others have moved to another country, establishing their business there in an attempt to ‘Brexit-proof’ their future. The biggest group to have relocated to another country is UK nationals living in the EU, suggesting that uncertainty about their future within the EU has led them to return to the UK.

Post-brexit concerns

Sadly, more than half of respondents (55%) said they felt unable to exercise choice over their future in the light of Brexit. We asked members to specify their greatest concerns about leaving the EU from a list based on the fears expressed by members in our 2016 survey. Top of the list were retaining the right to live and work in your chosen country, and freedom to travel within the EU. These issues were of most concern to UK nationals living in both the UK and the EU.

Other causes for concern revolved around applying for dual nationality and residence/ work permits; changes to the amount of work offered; and maintaining rates of pay (which were of particular concern for EU and dual UK/EU nationals living in the UK). 60% of respondents showed concern over the continued decline in language learning in the UK. That figure was even higher among those living in the UK, who linked the drop in language learning to the referendum result.

More than half of respondents living in the EU (53%) are worried about international recognition of language qualifications – much higher than the average 37%. Of great concern among all groups was the likely loss of freedom to study in EU countries and the loss of Erasmus and/or third-year abroad funding for UK students. However, some were more positive, with one commenting: “I think that good sense will re-assert itself and that there will be lots of separate agreements covering areas such as Erasmus.”

In the comments box, members expressed their fears over pension rights, guarantees, portability and value; potential loss of health cover; a predicted increase in duties on services between UK and EU businesses, and in bank transfer fees into the UK; and an erosion of employment rights in the UK. The increased isolation of the UK was also a preoccupation, with one respondent pointing to a “loss of goodwill and many links in many fields, built up over the last 40 years”.

Occupational hazards

More than half (54%) of respondents were translators, while a tenth (9.7%) were interpreters. Of EU nationals living in the UK, the breakdown was 46% translators and 25% interpreters. Academics comprised 3.8% of the survey sample, but 11% of respondents living in the UK with dual UK/EU nationality. 75% of respondents were freelance or self-employed, while only 14.6% were employed by an organisation.

Members had the opportunity to suggest areas where they would like CIOL to offer support. Common themes were information and advice on financial and legal issues, and any areas which could affect members’ work. Although there were many calls for CIOL to campaign against Brexit, a significant minority of respondents indicated that they were happy with the referendum result.

At the time of writing, there is still much frustration and uncertainty regarding the situation of the UK leaving the EU. As one member suggested, “[As] the Government has no idea what they want or what they are doing it is difficult to react in any meaningful way.” The country is in a constant state of flux, and has been for the past 2.5 years, which makes it difficult to offer much in the way of advice or guidance. We hope that this will become possible once the situation has been clarified.