The European question

Written by
23rd February 2018

My philosophy on life is straightforward – I want to live in peace and harmony with my fellow man, no matter where he or she stands on religion, politics or Brexit! So this is a philosophical reflection on where we are now, 18 months after the referendum on whether to leave or remain in the EU. My thinking is inspired by the historian, commentator and journalist Peter Hennessey, who has written and spoken publicly on the subject. The referendum was designed to be a decisive turning point, but it couldn’t be, he argues. Why? Because the European question was destined to haunt us no matter what the outcome.

Let me take my own profession, dentistry. Ever greater numbers of European dentists have been joining the General Dental Council’s register year on year. As you are probably aware, membership of the EU entitled citizens of the member states freedom of movement. Our European colleagues were welcomed here with open arms and they surprised us by coming in large numbers. On average, 30% of new registrants were from Europe.

Now we potentially have the reverse problem. A study (*)  in the Britsh Dental Journal showed that while dentists from the European Economic Area arrived in significant numbers, of all the new registrants from overseas, they stayed the shortest time in the UK.

The article author Dr Batchelor goes on to say that the lack of clear guidelines around working arrangements for overseas professionals is worrying. “To ensure a sustainable workforce, this lack of clarity is a major failing and, as within other aspects of the healthcare sector, the Government must address this as a matter of urgency.”

The confusion that surrounds the future of dental provision seems to pervade all aspects of Brexit. There are so many unanswered questions. And the referendum certainly hasn’t united the Conservative Party, or the Labour Party, for that matter.

Our situation is ironic because we were originally EU outsiders who wanted to be insiders. In 1961we we made our first attempt to be part of the European Union – but we were rebuffed by the French President Charles de Gaulle. It took another 6 years for us to try again and De Gaulle said no – or Non – a second time. It was 1973 when we were finally admitted.

My belief is that the European question was never going to be resolved and we should simply accept that. We should regard this latest phase in our relationship with the continent across the channel as an inevitability and enjoy being European until we aren’t any longer.

*by Paul Batchelor (Chair of the Fellowship Management Board of the Faculty of General Dental Practice of the Royal College of Surgeons of England)



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