The vote last night for the Brexit has already had immediate and momentous global financial impact, with markets rocked around the globe from the New World to Asia. The pound plunged to its lowest levels in over 30 years. An estimated $2 trillion to $3 trillion in value was immediately erased in financial markets around the world, and the results led to the resignation of the Prime Minister, David Cameron.
The impacts of this vote will take years and decades to resolve, and will affect the British Isles and the continent in a myriad of ways, some more subtle and some more overt.
Many in the UK voted “Leave” to expressly avoid EU red tape. The EU tried to wiggle a bit and reduce the more odious requirements, but to little effect. For instance, in early June the EU eliminated some translation and localization requirements, such as lifting the requirement for certified translations of certain personal documents. Yet such minor steps fell far short of what British voters seemed to demand.
On the other side, in the “Remain” camp, just days before the Brexit vote, the collective Welsh, Gaelic, Irish, and Cornish language communities issued a joint letter, warning that a vote to leave could be “potentially disastrous” for them. Under the EU, such minority languages had particular acceptance and protection under law. [For example, read our article from earlier this year about Gaeilge being made one of the official languages of the EU.]
The joint statement warned of the consequences of removing such protections. Their language was stark, stating that they would “be at the mercy of governments that have shown neither the interest nor the desire to protect and promote the rights of speakers of our nations and regions’ languages, and have throughout much of our shared history conducted aggressive language policies designed to eradicate our languages.”
Regional concerns and considerations beyond linguistics also highly affected local results. For instance, isolated Gibraltar, which has a land border with Spain, and commonly speaks a vernacular cobbling of English and Spanish known as Llanito, voted nearly 96% to Remain. Scotland voted 62% to Remain, and every single Scottish county voted majority Remain. Northern Ireland, which shares a land border with the EU-member Republic of Ireland, also voted majority Remain with 55.8%.
On the other hand, Wales was nearly evenly split, but had Leave barely ahead at 52.5%. Cornwall also voted majority Leave, with 56.5% of the vote.
In the aftermath, there remains great uncertainty, with calls for a new independence referendum in Scotland, plus Northern Ireland again raising the possibility of reuniting with the Republic of Ireland. Both efforts are directed squarely and specifically this time to regain EU membership.
As an industry, most UK localization and translation professionals wished to Remain, with an ATC poll showing support among 90% of its members. The British linguistics industry accounts for over 12,000 jobs and £1 billion in business annually. The statement from ATC warned “a departure from the EU will cause a significant deterioration in current levels of business they conduct with enterprises based in the member states.” The Brexit can lead to EU citizens currently in the UK having to return to the Continent, or might raise barriers to doing business between British Language Service Providers (LSPs) and clients in the EU, and the vice-verse of these situations.
Even adjacent industries, such as marketing and design, will be affected. In an article in The Drum, Julia Beardwood, of Beardwood and Co., seemed almost sanguine, “Britain is dominant in the world of creativity and Brexit won’t change that… From a branding perspective, global brands are already recognizing the need for more localization. Less ubiquitous campaigns and more country and regional pride is another trend we will see more of.”
Less sanguine was Karin Drakenberg, founder of StrawberryFrog, who said, “The exit of the U.K. from the EU will mean an immediate change of mood among European brands about working with London based agencies…The other issue is that uncertainty will immediately create a state of fear and that means less money for new ideas and innovations. Quite frankly, people will stop investing in new things until there is clarity about this massive change.”
Update: On 27 June, it was observed by a member of the European Parliament that if the UK continues with a Brexit, English would no longer be an official language of the EU! It is possible there might be a way to have another country (such as Ireland) support English as an official language of the EU in place of the UK, yet this is surely a case of broad-ranging unintended consequences of a Brexit.
What is your opinion? How will Brexit affect your own localization and translation decision-making? We’d love to hear your thoughts and concerns. Email us at [email protected].