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UK Language profession needs a united front post Brexit

Many of us are still in a state of mourning after the shock of the UK’s EU referendum result. Others in the language industry have started to look beyond the immediate horizon and can only see more negative consequences facing the language profession.

Most alarming for many has been the posturing of one of the leading contenders in the Conservative Party race for its leadership and the position of Prime Minister.

Theresa May, the front runner, if she succeeds David Cameron as First Lord of the Treasury, is prepared to use the status of 3.3 million EU citizens currently living and working in the UK as bargaining chips in negotiations with European Union member states.  Not content with that she has pronounced that 1.2 million UK citizens living and working in other EU countries will be thrown into the mix too.

Setting aside the morality of such a negotiating tactic, it has set alarm bells ringing throughout the UK’s language industry.  Ours is a sector heavily reliant on mother-tongue linguists for translation and interpreting. Many thousands of those professionals are resident in the UK and members of either the Chartered Institute of Linguists or the Institute of Translation and Interpreting.  Many are practitioners who have gone on to form companies.  Those companies not only rely of the freelance community, but need to have certainty about the ability to recruit in-house linguists too.

Meanwhile, the vote to leave is creating just as much uncertainty around the development of future linguists too.  UK universities offering translation and interpreting courses are already under pressure with some high profile casualties, such as Westminster and Salford.  With the future of the Erasmus Programme up in the air, the viability of more courses could come under increasing pressure and some may not survive.

The uncertainty being faced by the whole of the language profession demands that all the professional bodies come together to form a united front. We need a strong united voice to speak directly to those who ultimately will lead our negotiations, so they carefully consider the future of the UK’s £1 billion language industry, which is the hidden lubricant in UK plc’s ability to trade successfully with the rest of the world.

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