Five months from today the United Kingdom will leave the European Union – and people in Liverpool are very worried.
The city voted strongly to Remain during the 2016 referendum and has relied heavily on strong links with Europe – not to mention significant funding and support that has assisted its rebirth and growth into a truly international destination.
So it is understandable that many in the city are concerned that with just five months to go until the leaving date, there is no official negotiated deal on the table and the prospect of crashing out of the European Union without a deal in place is growing.
There is talk of lorry ferries being brought into use and the prospect of medicines in short supply if a deal is not reached – but how else could People’s lives be immediately effected if the worst scenario happens?
Dr Stuart Wilks-Heeg is the Head of Politics at the University of Liverpool, he, like many people in the city, is worried about what lies ahead and has outlined the various scenarios that could play out after March 29.
‘The potential negative consequences of ‘no deal’ are absolutely enormous’
Dr Wilks-Heeg says he is ‘very nervous’ about the prospect of Brexit at present, largely because of quite how far behind schedule the negotiations are.
He said: “No member state has ever left the EU before, so we have no real precedents to judge what the impacts of leaving, positive or negative, might be.
“It is the ‘no deal’ scenario that is especially worrying.
“It is one thing to say, as the Prime Minister has repeatedly, that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’.
“But in practical terms, the potential negative consequences of ‘no deal’ are absolutely enormous.
“There is more to this than just the terms on which we trade with the EU.
“Among a host of other things, it’s also about whether we see the introduction of customs checks at our ports, the prospect of the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and what the provisions would be for the UK to use European air space.
“All these issues, and more, are set out in the government’s 100+ technical notices preparing for a ‘no deal’ Brexit.”
What would a No Deal mean for the lives of people in Liverpool?
With no deal in place, five months to go and what appear to be some insurmountable challenges – such as an agreement over the Irish border – people across the country are starting to try and come to terms with the fact our country may well crash out of the European Union on March 29 – but what practical effect could this immediately have on the lives of people in this city and the surrounding region?
Dr Wilks-Heeg says the effects are hard to predict in detail, but adds: “But, from what we already know about the possible disruption to ‘just in time’ supply chains, supermarket shelves might be empty of some produce more often than not and workers in the region’s car plants might find they are waiting around for essential components to arrive.
“Merseyside companies that only export to the EU will find that they have to get used to a great deal of new paperwork and new software systems, owing to customs regulations.
“Merseyside residents traveling to the EU for work or holidays will also notice changes.
“They will need an International Driving Permit if they take their car. Mobile phone roaming charges in the EU will be back for UK residents.
“EU nationals living in Liverpool and Merseyside will face very real uncertainty about whether they will be able to remain here. There are many more possible consequences. At this stage, all we have is uncertainty.”
‘I’m concerned about how Brexit will affect my quality of life’
One such EU national living in Liverpool is Sara Garstecka. A Polish PHD student at the University of Liverpool, she has called this city home for the past 11 years – but now worries about her future.
She said: “I feel really at home and welcome here, so I feel sad and disappointed that this decision has been made.
“I work in academia and live in a city where so many projects were sponsored by the EU.
“I’m concerned about how Brexit will affect my quality of life: from fewer research funds, fewer job prospects, growing costs of food, fewer investment opportunities, raising poverty and so on.”
But one area where Sara feels reasonably hopeful concerns applying for permanent residence.
Her employer, the University of Liverpool was selected as part of a pilot scheme which is testing the system for applying for permanent residents post-Brexit.
She said that during her session with Home Office staff, she and most other people in the room were tense and sceptical about how well it would work, but she said she was pleasantly surprised with the system and outcome.
She explained: “It turns out that the new system is really easy and straightforward to use. Some of my EU friends have already applied and confirmed that the procedure didn’t take them more than 10 minutes and they received a response within 2 weeks.
“I hope this doesn’t change when the system opens to everyone in March 2019. I don’t think Brexit will affect my legal status in any way. As I don’t have a UK passport, my travel across Europe also won’t be affected.”
But there are plenty of other aspects of Brexit that worry Sara – and she can look to her home country for a potential glimpse of some ways things could play out.
She said: “My home country (Poland) has its own problems with the populist, theocratic and extremely conservative ruling party which is slowly eroding freedom of the media and independence of courts.
“I think some people like the idea of Brexit because it chimes with the (misguided) proud, nationalist chord.
“Most people do see how much Poland has benefited from the UK and are actually aware how much the UK has benefited from Europe (in the form of subsidies to the agricultural sector, peacekeeping on the Irish border, support to the poorer regions and cheap labour) so they are baffled why people voted for Brexit.
In terms of other general fears, she adds: “Raising prices of food and other products after import/ export tariffs change, xenophobia, lack of funds for research, increase in poverty and crime levels are probably the top ones for me.”
Will Brexit halt Liverpool’s growth and prosperity?
If you walk around Liverpool City Centre, it probably won’t be long before you come across a plaque demonstrating how something has been built because of European Union funding.
Many in the city believe it was the European Union who came to save Liverpool from the prospect of ‘managed decline’ under Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government in the 1980s and there are fears what Brexit could mean for the city’s continued growth and prosperity when this vital source of funding and support cut off.
Dr Wilks-Heeg said: “The EU Objective 1 funds that were available to Merseyside for over a decade from the early 1990s onwards made a massive difference and enabled the city-region to finally turn the corner after the devastating impact of economic decline in the 1970s and 1980s.
“Objective 1 status has now come to an end, so the EU funding levels have been reduced, but they still provide valuable support for regeneration and economic development initiatives locally.
Watch: Thousands march through Liverpool in protest against Brexit
“Various promises have been made that the UK government will make up for such funding when it disappears, but it’s also true that the claimed public spending ‘dividend’ the UK will get from leaving the EU, a dividend that will almost certainly never exist in reality, has been promised for many other things also.”
Dr Wilks-Heeg adds that since the European Capital of Culture success of 2008, Liverpool has ‘consciously styled itself as a European city and has benefited from becoming a major European tourist destination.’
He said: “Because of its location and its history, Liverpool is also a city with strong social and economic ties to the Republic of Ireland. The disruptive effect of Brexit could be considerable here, especially in the event of ‘no deal’.”
“Nothing good comes out of Brexit for Liverpool”
Someone who has more reason than most to fear the damage that could be done to Liverpool’s status as a European city and tourist destination and subsequently its economic future, is Mayor Joe Anderson.
He fears Brexit will add to a ‘perfect storm’ for a city rated the second most destitute in the country that is currently battling unprecedented government spending cuts and the roll-out of the dreaded Universal Credit benefit system.
He said: “I’m afraid that nothing good comes out of Brexit for Liverpool.
“The sheer uncertainty it has generated, not to mention the total hash ministers have made of the exit negotiations, points to this being a very painful experience for the country.
“Of course, the Government has never officially revealed its economic impact assessments, but what has leaked out shows that the farther you are away from London, the harder the hit you will be.”
Mayor Anderson added: “Under a ‘no deal’ scenario, the North West would see its economy shrink by 12 per cent over the next 15 years, costing tens of thousands of jobs.
“My fear is that we face a ‘perfect storm’ where Brexit, austerity and the botched roll-out of Universal Credit conspire to damage our economy and passport the pain to the poorest and least able to cope.”
Mayor Anderson added: “The fact that we have now reached deadlock with the European Commission – with little prospect of a satisfactory deal – means that the public are entitled to a second vote.
“It’s ridiculous that you have a cooling-off period when you bur car insurance – but not when we’re about to make the biggest decision we’ve made as a country since the Second World War.”