According to the former Secretary of State for Leaving
the EU, David Davis MP, Brexit will be 'biggest change for a generation'.
Indeed, it is difficult to think of any policy area that will not be affected
We don’t yet know what kind of
relationship Britain will have with the EU after March 2019. But whatever our
own political views, it is fair and appropriate to highlight the risks and
challenges that could arise as a result of the process.
In this respect, some policy areas have received very
little attention in the discussions so far. Unfortunately, the Welsh language
is one of those areas. As a result, over the past few months we have been trying
to highlight the potential risks of Brexit for Welsh speakers and
Sectors such as the agricultural sector and the
post-16 sector are extremely important for the Welsh language. Both employ a
high percentage of Welsh speakers. Agricultural businesses are the life blood
of many rural communities where Welsh is spoken as the natural everyday
language; the post-16 sector is responsible for producing a bilingual skilled
workforce. The two sectors rely extensively on the benefits of the EU
membership, including broad financial support, free trading arrangements and
free travel arrangements. Unfortunately, this also means they are vulnerable to
exceptional damage due to Brexit. It is fair to fear that any blow to these
sectors is likely to be a blow to the Welsh language as well.
European funding has also supported the Welsh language
more directly. Organisations such as the Urdd, Mentrau Iaith Cymru and Four Cymru have attracted
European support to projects aimed at promoting skills and business, with the
Welsh language at the heart of their activities. European funding has supported
other well-known initiatives and projects – such as the renovation of Nant
Gwrtheyrn centre and the production of Y Gwyll / Hinterland. Again, there are
grounds for concern that similar support will not be available after Brexit.
also consider implications other than funding. The EU is an important platform
for speakers of various minority languages to work together and take advantage
of intellectual and political support. The Union is home to networks such as the NPLD
(Network to Promote Linguistic Diversity), and cultural exchange projects such
as Erasmus+. Brexit could prevent Welsh speakers from benefitting from
opportunities such as these in the future.
implications are also possible. Lawyer Emyr Lewis suggested that Brexit could
lead to marginalising the voice of minority communities in political discourse
and undermine respect towards them. We know that there has been a dramatic
increase in the number of hate crimes since the Brexit vote. There has also
been a spotlight on insults aimed at Welsh speakers. It must be noted that
there is no solid research that connects these statements with Brexit. However,
we believe that the social climate that emerged in the wake of the vote has
created an atmosphere that allows such attitudes to prosper.
Brexit could affect the system for protecting basic human rights in the
UK. The potential impact on individuals’
language rights appears to be relatively limited at present. However, we must
carefully monitor the development of the discussion about the future of the
Human Rights Act 1998 and plans to introduce a British Bill of Rights to take
the above considerations, the Welsh Government has given some attention to the
potential impact of Brexit on the Welsh language in the context of the agriculture
sector. In the consultation paper on the future of subsidies to the
agricultural sector and forestry in Wales – ‘Brexit and our land' – it
acknowledged the importance of the Welsh language for rural Wales. However, we
argued with others that a stronger action is needed in order to protect the
connection between the Welsh language and the agricultural sector, including
designating the language a 'public good’ under the new policy.
Beyond the agricultural sector, the Welsh Government
has paid little attention to the implications of Brexit for the Welsh language.
There is also little evidence that the UK Government has given any specific
attention to the issue. For this reason, in December 2018 we wrote to the
Minister for the Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning, the Secretary of State
for Wales and the Secretary of State for Leaving the EU. We called on them to
address the issue and to work together to mitigate any negative effects of
Brexit on the Welsh language.
We also warmly welcome the recent report by the
Assembly’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, which calls on the Welsh Government to produce a
risk assessment of the effect of Brexit on the Welsh language. We have been
calling for such assessment for a long time now and we will be keeping a keen
eye on the Government’s response to the recommendation.