MPs and Peers in plea for protecting language skills in Brexit negotiations

The APPG on Modern Languages published its document Brexit & Languages – a checklist for government negotiators and officials – on 17 October, calling on the Government to ensure Brexit negotiations protect the UK’s urgent strategic need for language skills, if the UK is to succeed as a world leader in free trade and international relations.

The APPG is highlighting four essential language-specific objectives of the Brexit process:

  1.  Guaranteeing residency status for EU nationals already living in the UK and safeguarding future recruitment of EU citizens to address the shortage of language skills
  2.  Continuing full UK participation in the Erasmus+ programme (noting the examples of Norway and Switzerland)
  3.  Committing to legislate to replicate the rights enshrined in the 2010 European Directive on the Right to Interpretation and Translation in Criminal Proceedings
  4.  A post-Brexit plan in education (from primary school to post-graduate research, including apprenticeships), business and the civil service, with specific actions to ensure the UK produces sufficient linguists to meet its future requirements as a leader in global free trade and on the international stage

Baroness Coussins, Co-Chair of the APPG on Modern Languages, said: “Brexit must make the UK’s language skills a top policy issue. Language skills are vital for our exports, education, public services and diplomacy and we will not be able to carry on relying on other EU nationals to plug the gap. The Government have a double challenge: they must safeguard crucial current access to language skills and international experience, such as participation in the Erasmus+ programme, and also kick-start a national plan to ensure the UK produces the linguists we need to become a world leader in global free trade and on the international stage.”

Ruth Sinclair-Jones, Director of Erasmus+ UK National Agency based at the British Council, said: “The benefits of Erasmus+ to the UK cannot be underestimated. Losing UK participation would limit the future prospects of young people and the country as a whole.

“Every year around 7,000 UK language students benefit from a year abroad through Erasmus+ improving their language skills either at university or working as Language Assistants. In addition, around 3,000 UK school staff bring benefits to their schools with physical and virtual exchanges across Europe. It would be devastating to lose such valuable international connections.”

The APPG on Modern Languages notes that the Government committed to ensuring concerns over court interpreters “will be taken into account”, in response to Baroness Coussins’s speech in the House of Lords on 14 July 2016 on Resourcing and Staffing the Courts, detailing examples of poor compliance with the 2010 European Directive on the Right to Interpretation and Translation in Criminal Proceedings: “The Ministry of Justice’s own statistics reported that in 2015 there were 2,100 complaints about Capita’s service, the most common of which was “no interpreter available”.”

In a context where the UK seeks to expand its horizons beyond Europe, but its language skills deficit is already estimated to cost 3.5% of GDP, the APPG on Modern Languages calls on the Government to plan a strategy which will ensure the UK can grow its own language skills, both European and non-European, in order to succeed in world trade, international relations and security. 

These issues are even more pressing now than in 2013-14 when the British Council’s Languages for the Future report identified a severe shortage in the number of UK people able to speak the ten most important languages for the UK’s future, and the British Academy’s Lost for Words inquiry and Born Global research highlighted the “deficit” in the UK’s language capacity in the fields of diplomacy, international relations and security as well as UK employers’ unmet demand for language skills. The APPG on Modern Languages welcomes the contribution of Cambridge University’s 2016 The Value of Languages report which maps out a series of goals for the UK’s language requirements in diplomacy, security, the economy, defence, cultural capital, social cohesion and education.