Monday | July 22, 2019

This panel was presented by the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers at the 8th Education International World Congress 2019 in Bangkok, Thailand

"Whither Brexit: The View from British and Irish Teacher Unions"

The extraordinary political divisions revealed by the June 2016 referendum that narrowly approved Brexit –short for British exit from the European Community – have only deepened in the three years since it was held. The devastation that a unilateral ‘hard Brexit’ would wreak on the British and Irish economies, and the potential damage it could do to the peace process in Northern Ireland, has led to repeated attempts by the Conservative government to negotiate ‘softer’ versions. But a ‘soft Brexit’ that would include agreements to remain in the single European market, to allow for free movement of people across British-European Community borders or to maintain the status quo along the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have proved unpalatable to the hardline supporters of Brexit, who argue that it is no Brexit at all, and Parliament has been unable to muster a majority in support of any proposal, even with extended deadlines. The result has been a British political system in dysfunctional gridlock and chaos, leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May. The ground for a ‘soft Brexit’ appears increasingly tenuous: on the one hand, the leading candidate to succeed May, Trump favorite Boris Johnson, has been making plans for a no deal ‘hard Brexit’ without parliamentary approval; on the other hand, the Labour Party has recently shifted its position to call for a new referendum.

Brexit poses a particular set of challenges for British and Irish higher education, as British membership in the European Community has facilitated cross-border faculty employment and student registration. The impact of Brexit on colleges and universities in the United Kingdom and Ireland are thus a particular concern for British and Irish teacher unions.

Our panel will discuss the political forces behind Brexit, the current state of play in efforts to resolve the crisis around it, and its potential effects on education, along with the approaches their respective unions have taken to the issue.

Mary Bousted, General Secretary, National Education Union (NEU), UK
John MacGabhann, General Secretary, Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI), UK
Patrick Roach, Deputy General Secretary, National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NAWUWT), UK
Moderator: Leo Casey, Executive Director, Albert Shanker Institute, USA