With the deadline of the UK’s impending exit from the EU just weeks away, it’s already clear that Brexit has already had an effect, especially in the recruitment, employment and retention of EU nationals in the UK workforce. Alongside this, there is a lot of uncertainty about whether a deal can be agreed ahead of the deadline triggered by Article 50. Although children and vulnerable people living in the UK will be profoundly impacted the UK’s inevitable ejection from the EU’s infrastructure, the debate of their safety and security has had little to no attention.  

Politicians have stated that they wish to continue cooperating with the EU in relation to criminal justice, security and policing, but it is unclear on how Ministers will achieve this. Ensuring that we have a clear safeguarding infrastructure before 29 March 2019 is crucial for children and vulnerable people residing in the UK, as there is an increasing risk of them falling victim to complex cross-border crime.

How are EU legislations currently protecting children in the UK?

From child sexual exploitation, online abuse and trafficking, there are EU legislations (such as Eurojust and Europol) put in place to support cross-national collaboration and coordination – all of which are crucial in tackling crime against children.

While the UK is a member of the EU, we are part of the European wide SISII (Schengen Information Sharing System) that eases European cooperation for law enforcement, border control and immigration purposes. This system enables a proactive recording of alerts where a vulnerable child is at risk, including potential parental abduction and trafficking. After the deadline, we will no longer have access to this information, putting cross-border corporation in jeopardy and children in peril.

How will Brexit impact children?

While children did not get to vote or have a say in the 2016 referendum, we can expect the UK’s separation from the EU to impact many areas of children’s lives. After all, there are a number of legislations and protections in a number of areas that were procured from the UK’s joining of the EU. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) promotes human rights. Article 3(3) of the Treaty on European Union has the intention of promoting and protecting the rights of the child. The protection of children’s rights by EU institutions and by EU member states is also guaranteed by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and is put in place when a country implements EU law. However, under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, all existing EU-derived laws were converted into UK domestic laws.

While the Government has stated that they are dedicated to the UN CRC in relation to extensive children’s rights, there are concerns that the Government will repeal, amend or re-introduce Henry VIII powers in the House of Commons legislative decisions post-Brexit, and could be made with minimal scrutiny.

Safeguarding Children post-Brexit

When ascertaining how the UK and EU will work together in the future, child safeguarding is a serious issue that transcends borders. We must ensure that the protection of children and vulnerable people are not relegated once the UK is no longer an EU member to avoid being cut out of crucial, complex and developing child protection mechanisms.