by Johannes Greubel, Grace Carter and Jannike Wachowiak
On 3 December 2020 the European Policy Centre hosted a public event ‘The future of the EU-UK relationship’ as part of a one-and-a-half-day virtual activity in the context of the EU-IDEA project. The discussion revolved around the current state of play of the Brexit negotiations and the prospects for the future relationship. Nicoletta Pirozzi introduced the event with an overview of the EU IDEA project before handing over to Jannike Wachowiak who moderated the panel. Panelists included Stefaan de Rynck (Head of Unit of the Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom at the European Commission), Kati Piri (Member of the European Parliament and Member of the UK Coordination Group), Sir Ivan Rogers (Former Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the European Union), and Fabian Zuleeg (Chief Executive of the European Policy Centre).
The discussion was opened by Nicoletta Pirozzi, Head of the EU, politics and institutions programme at the Istituto Affari Internazionali, who briefly presented the EU-IDEA project and the work of the Brexit observatory, which is part of the project. Pirozzi summarised the main ambitions of the EU-IDEA project and how differentiation could be identified as a concrete way forward for Europe to respond to the challenges it was facing. One challenge identified, of the 4 key policy areas, was Brexit. Finally, she also announced the winners of the “Framing Brexit: EU IDEA visual and video award” and invited the audience to take a look at the artworks online.
The panel discussion was introduced by Jannike Wachowiak, Policy Analyst at the European Policy Centre, who commented on the extraordinary situation of the current Brexit negotiations and the remaining uncertainty of whether there will be a deal or even whether the UK Government wants the deal on offer.
Wachowiak asked Stefaan de Rynck, Head of Unit of the Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom at the European Commission, for his outlook on the Brexit negotiations. De Rynck highlighted that one of the few certainties we have amongst the Brexit chaos is that the benefits of EU membership that the UK currently receives will end and new barriers to trade will be introduced – such as an end to the automatic rights of British students to study in the EU, and the financial services passport, as well as the introduction of red tape and customs formalities. These changes will take place regardless of the outcome of negotiations. Another certainty is the requirement for full implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland from 1 January 2021.
However, beyond these certainties, negotiations on the future partnership are ongoing and while both sides are committed to finding an agreement it is not guaranteed that they will cross the finish line with a deal.
Wachowiak directed the discussion to Kati Piri, Member of the European Parliament and Member of the UK Coordination Group, asking her on the timing for ratification. Specifically, how to balance getting a deal ratified in time whilst ensuring that the democratic process is observed. Piri highlighted that these are unique and exceptional circumstances which call for extraordinary procedures, such as holding an extraordinary plenary after Christmas to ratify a possible deal. She stressed that the European Parliament has been extremely flexible to ensure the ratification process can be carried out before the deadline whilst preserving the democratic process. However, this flexibility cannot come at the expense of democratic scrutiny which is why the parliamentarians are against provisional application of any deal.
Jannike asked Sir Ivan Rogers, Former Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the European Union, about the internal domestic situation in the UK and the mood there. Rogers emphasised that Boris Johnson is facing internal revolts from his own party which is increasingly becoming more unruly and ungovernable. This has been seen recently in regard to the lockdown tiers.
Rogers suspects that it is unlikely that Johnson will face down the Brexit ultras in the European Research Group, partly as they are the ones who got him into power. However, that does not mean Johnson is set on a no deal outcome, it is likely that he is yet to make a decision on whether he wants a deal or no deal and which ‘delivers’ his election manifesto of ‘getting Brexit done’ most. Rogers also stressed that the decision is not going to rest on economic considerations, such as recent forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, but on politics and concerns over sovereignty.
For that reason, Johnson has to present a clear win on fisheries and sovereignty. However, as Rogers emphasized, it is unclear what would constitute a clear win and whether expectations have been built too high among the British public.
Fabian Zuleeg, Chief Executive of the European Policy Centre, was asked on the issue of constantly delaying a decision on the UK’s part. Fabian commented on Johnson’s propensity for brinkmanship which is linked to the view that a deal must be made between the UK and Berlin and Paris, not the negotiators on the ground.
Domestically, it will be easier for Johnson to push through a deal if there is as little time as possible for scrutiny. The overarching question, however, is whether he will push this so far that time will simply run out. Zuleeg further commented that the UK’s introduction of the Internal Market Bill, and soon the Finance Bill, will make it very difficult for a trade deal to surface. He concluded that the timing dimension, Johnson’s tendency for brinkmanship and last minute decisions in combination with the Internal Market Bill make a no deal very likely. Stefaan further commented on the Internal Market Bill highlighting the unclear motive behind its introduction.
Jannike asked Kati Piri on the impact a no deal Brexit would have on the EU and whether the expected asymmetric economic impact within the EU might cause discord among member states. Kati pointed out the remarkable unity among EU member states throughout the last four years.
In terms of the economic impact of a no deal, the UK will be hit harder than the EU as a whole. However, citing the example of the Netherlands where 17 000 jobs would be lost with a deal and 70 000 without a deal, Piri underlined the severe economic impact a no deal would have on both sides of the channel and the EU’s preference for a deal that respects the integrity of the Single Market.