Brexit could seriously damage peacebuilding, concluded a workshop today at The Conflict Analysis Research Centre at the University of Kent, although it may also present some new opportunities.
Four expert speakers from peacebuilding NGOs discussed the possible impact of Brexit on UK peacebuilding NGOs, on the wider UK contribution to peacebuilding and on the peacebuilding sector in Europe.
The speakers were Teresa Dumasy, Director of Policy and Learning at Conciliation Resources, Phil Vernon, Director of Programmes at International Alert, Judith Large, a peacebuilding facilitator and Research Fellow at CARC, and Ben Moore, Assistant Director of the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office.
Brexit could mean funding cuts for the UK peacebuilding sector and difficulties in recruiting staff from Europe. The EU currently provides 15-25% of funding for UK NGOs in the sector. With funding for peacebuilding also likely to fall in the US as the Trump Administration reins back support for civil society, this could mean a painful funding squeeze. There might still be openings for British NGOs to participate through the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) or as non-EU consortium members. But the opportunities for influencing policy decisions will be reduced.
EU and British investment in peacebuilding is also under threat. Governments are taking a more reactive approach to conflicts. The EU is withdrawing support from peacebuilding and conflict prevention and in the UK, civil society organisations, which have wide networks with local organisations in conflict contexts, are finding it harder to access funds. At a time of budget cuts, there are signs that military research is encroaching on existing peacebuilding and conflict prevention budgets. Mediation support and peacebuilding work have been reorganized into umbrella groupings such as PRISM in the EU and the National Security Council in the UK, which are tending to subordinate making peace to national security interests.
Current policy developments threaten to undermined the significant achievements made up to now in the UK and EU peacebuilding sectors.
In the UK, the government’s proposed withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights threatens the integrity of an international human rights regime that British human rights experts have done much to promote in the past. In Northern Ireland, the possible re-introduction of a hard border and the dependence of the Conservative government on support from one of the parties to the conflict threatens the integrity of the peace process that has been seen as an export model for UK peacebuilding.
In the EU, UK withdrawal would damage European peacebuilding efforts. The EU will lose the expertise of British civil servants and secondees at senior levels, and there may be a reduction of NGO input into EU policies. The UK contribution has previously been significant in areas like conflict early warning systems and conflict analysis. British diplomats would sit outside the EU’s negotiating rooms, limiting their ability to access information and participate in making joint policies on peacebuilding matters.
The EU budget would shrink by 15-20% and if this led to cuts across the board, EU peacebuilding budgets would be reduced. This would affect EU funding of peacebuilding in conflict-affected regions.
Hitherto the UK has acted as a brake on efforts towards EU defence cooperation. With a new impulse for integration amongst the core EU states, defence cooperation is likely to gather steam. This may well impact negatively on peacebuilding budgets, if military rather than soft power approaches to security are given emphasis.
A harder or softer Brexit will affect the outcome. The Norway model enables Norwegian NGOs to have as much access to the EU as NGOs from member states. In contrast, the Swiss model, based on bilateral commitments, limits the eligibility of Swiss NGOs to EU funds. The UK could continue to contribute to some funds, such as the Trust Funds, , the European Development Fund and CSDP missions . There may also be opportunities. In the past for example the UK’s Conflict Pool allowed for more nimble and flexible funding for pilot or short-term initiatives, which in turn acted as leverage for longer-term EU funding subject to the EU’s slower and more bureaucratic machinery. The UK could reassess how it can add value to the efforts and instruments of the EU in conflict prevention.