Brexit, psychology and human rights

Across Europe, and particularly to people in Britain, the vote to leave the European Union came as a shock and it has left a trail of political and economic consequences in its wake that will take months, if not years to work through. Making any predictions about the impact of this decision on psychology and human rights is impossible as there are so many uncertainties. What we can say is that there are potentially severe threats to human rights that emerge from this and defending these rights becomes an important priority. We are writing as members of the European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations Board Human Rights and Psychology. The work of the Board has been to collaborate with groups established by and connected with the European Union, so for us the referendum outcome has been of particular concern. The EFPA released a statement jointly by Professor Peter Kinderman (BPS President) and Telmo Mourinho Baptista,EFPA President, reaffirming their commitment to continue to work together whatever the outcome of the current turmoil.

This referendum may be a wake up call about what role we should play as professional psychologists in the future. Can we continue to be impartial in the changes that are taking place throughout the world. Could we have taken a position on whether we should remain part of the EU or leave it? Psychology certainly won’t be immune from the impact of leaving the EU so perhaps we need to take a more activist stance.

There is no doubt that across Europe there is an increasingly vocal and influential movement against the free movement of people (Dennison and Pardijs 2016) and this is fueling community unrest and discord. Psychology has much to offer in this field and we should redouble our efforts to work together across Europe. In our own work we have linked up with the Fundamental Rights Agency – a EU body – that has been doing remarkable work researching human rights violations and promoting evidence based approaches to improving social cohesion . We are also working to develop a pan European curriculum on human rights in psychology education.

Psychologists and their associations need to continue to work together if Britain leaves the EU. It matters to us as psychologists, because fundamental rights values were challenged in these elections as they had strong xenophobic, anti-migration and anti-refugee sentiments. A commitment is needed to defend human rights values.

After last week's referendum there has been an increase in racist incidents reported to the police. Amnesty UK reports a 57% increase in hate crime since the EU referendum.

Perhaps we can see Brexit, not as the final word, but the beginning of psychologists engaging much more actively in political life as we have seen recently in psychologists against austerity.

There is clearly much work to be done!

Tony Wainwright, Member EFPA Board Human Rights and Psychology and Immediate past chair of the BPS Ethics Committee & Polli Hagenaars, Convenor EFPA Board Human Rights and Psychology