Skip to main content

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time? The Brexit Edition

Public Affairs

From the UK… by Tiffany Burrows

Five years ago, in stark contrast to today’s sunny skies, the heavens opened as people across the UK voted on a simple question in terms, but not in substance: Remain in or Leave the EU.

The Brexit referendum has become for me one of those reference points where most people in politics will know where they were when the result was announced, and what they felt about it. For me – and full disclosure, I was an ardent Remain supporter – I was devastated (and extremely shattered having stayed up all night on a diet of fizzy strawberry laces and cups of tea to watch the results come in). I attempted a power nap before going into work, but David Cameron’s resignation put paid to that. For euphoric Leave supporters it was an equally unforgettable night, as they celebrated the most spectacular and unlikely victories in British political history.

Fast forward five years and contrary to the opinions of some, the world has not ended, nor have we experienced a windfall of EU cash heading back to our shores. The UK has, however, seen three Prime Ministers, two general elections, countless negotiations and delayed deadlines, high drama in Parliament and the courts, and slogans galore, with Brexit lurking in every nook and cranny of our politics.

It is without question that Brexit meant Brexit, with the UK and EU eventually securing the trade and cooperation agreement (TCA) on Christmas Eve. In 2021, five years on, it does feel like we are finally turning a corner on Brexit. The UK Government has been trying to ensure that its rhetoric and attention shifts from our closest neighbours to further afield, with the launch of Global Britain and the ambitious trade policy seeking to cover 80% of the UK’s trade with Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) over the next three years. We’ve heard more about the trade opportunities in the Asia-Pacific, with an FTA signed last week with Australia, and formal negotiations beginning for UK accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Transpacific Partnership beginning yesterday. The UK Government also managed to agree a suspension of tariffs on certain products – including Scotch Whisky, with the US last week in a positive step. So could we finally be putting the tensions, disagreements, and (to some) tediousness of Brexit behind us?

In short, no. The TCA is the start of a new relationship between the UK and the EU, not the end, with negotiations and discussions still taking place on a number of issues, including financial equivalence. The difficulties with implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol have also been laid bare and will need cooperation from both the UK and the EU to ensure that the delicate balance of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is maintained in the face of increasing anger from unionists about checks at the border.

There will, inevitably be even more studies undertaken and close attention paid to economic data about the impact of Brexit on both sides, although the pandemic will certainly have muddied the waters. While it is therefore still too soon to judge the full impact of Brexit, we can be absolutely certain that we are, and will continue to be, talking about Brexit for years to come.

From the EU… by Andrea Tognoni

Time flies when one is having fun – or is very, very busy. Five years since that 24 June when Brussels woke up to the news that the EU was, for the first time in its history, losing a member. Whereas most of the actual technical options for the withdrawal were spelled out in the first weeks after the vote, the political positioning, posturing, hoping, and wishful thinking lingered for years. Just a few months later the whole world would wake up similarly shocked to a Trump presidency, and the EU was looking down the barrel of a populist wave coming down on the continent. It turned out, notably at the G7 in the UK and President Biden’s first NATO Summit, that we would all survive, and even start talking about something else.

In 2020 three 5-letter words have substituted the ubiquitous “Brexit” in Brussels discussions: Covid, green, and China. The new EU legislature managed to turn the page on Brexit with a good agreement – there will be litigation, there will be (more) turfs, there will be (more) posturing, but only very few in Brussels are now looking closely at the latest UK trade figures or waiting for the latest trade hurdle to show up and allows them to say “I told you so”.

Rebuilding its post-pandemic economy, delivering on the green transition against climate change and finding its place between Washington and Beijing on the global stage are now the top EU priorities. For trade, this future is one where the priorities are sustainability of supply chains, notably in the agri-food sector; and strategic autonomy, i.e. decoupling value chains from China whilst cooperating with Beijing where possible, creating an own sphere of influence pivoting manufacture back to Europe or its neighbourhood, and developing its own tech sector whilst making US giants pay their fair share. The Airbus-Boeing truce is a symbolic proof of that, and unless the Northern Ireland border issue escalates into a full-blown diplomatic crisis, which seems unlikely, shows how the EU seems willing to focus on the future – one where the UK is “simply” and hopefully above all a European and Atlantic country.