Thursday, April 18, 2024
Thursday, April 18, 2024
Home » After Brexit, Britain and Europe Embrace Ever-Closer Union

After Brexit, Britain and Europe Embrace Ever-Closer Union

by Kit West
0 comment 51 views

 It was the gleaming smiles and mutual backslapping of two 40-something banker bros which signalled a new era of U.K.-EU relations. 

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron looked like natural bedfellows as they riffed off one another at a friendly Paris press conference in March, announcing a sizeable £478 million package to deter migrant crossings through the English Channel.

The contrast with the petty name-calling of the Boris Johnson and Liz Truss eras was clear to see.

Sunak’s warm and productive summit with Europe’s most high-profile leader confirmed a more collaborative relationship with the EU and its national capitals after the turmoil of the Brexit era. Less than two weeks earlier, the British PM’s landmark Windsor Framework agreement with Brussels had finally resolved post-Brexit trading issues in Northern Ireland.

“My hope is that [the agreement] opens up other areas of constructive engagement and dialogue and cooperation with the EU,” Sunak told POLITICO en route to the Paris summit.

Six months on, his words have been borne out.

In addition to the Windsor Framework and English Channel agreements, Britain has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Brussels on regulatory cooperation in financial services, and this month rejoined the EU’s massive €96 billion Horizon and Copernicus science research programs — a major result for the U.K.’s research and university sectors after two years of uncertainty.

Next on the agenda is a cooperation deal between the British government and the EU’s border protection agency Frontex — another move that brings Britain closer to the EU in a small but meaningful way.

The deal, confirmed by the Home Secretary Suella Braverman on Tuesday, is expected to be similar to other deals Frontex has with non-EU countries, like Albania, which allow the sharing of data on migration flows.

“We have seen concrete steps created by a new climate of good faith,” said a London-based European diplomat, granted anonymity — like others in this article — to speak candidly about diplomatic relations.

“We missed that before, and so that’s the Sunak effect. I wouldn’t say he’s done an amazing job, but he’s changed the state of mind — and therefore he has changed everything.”

A new hope

In addition to a renewed focus on relations with fellow leaders, Sunak has impressed EU diplomats with his willingness to face down the vocal Brexiteer wing of his own party, which has long seemed — to European eyes — to hold outsized influence over successive Tory prime ministers.

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak proclaimed a “new chapter” in post-Brexit relations with the European Union after securing a breakthrough deal to regulate trade in Northern Ireland | Pool photo by Dan Kitwood/AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this year Sunak enraged Tory right-wingers by abandoning a controversial pledge to scrap or rewrite thousands of EU-era regulatory laws which remain on the British statute book by the end of this year, to the delight of EU capitals.

“The improving relationship is built on the fact there’s now a willingness to find solutions and engage in a way that wasn’t there in the previous administrations,” a second London-based European diplomat said.

Negotiations continue between Sunak’s government and Brussels over other outstanding areas of dispute — chief among them tough new tariffs due to be imposed in January on electric vehicles (EVs) being shipped in and out of the U.K. which do not conform to strict sourcing requirements for electric batteries.

On Wednesday the U.K.-EU Trade Specialised Committee will meet to discuss the issue, with British ministers increasingly hopeful Brussels will agree to scrap the end-of-year deadline after heavy lobbying from German automakers and its own European Commissioner for trade, Valdis Dombrovskis.

Catherine Barnard, a European law professor at Cambridge University, said overall Sunak had overseen a “much more positive relationship” with Europe, albeit one conducted on a “pay-as-you-go basis.”

“This is looking much more positive and it’s putting some meaning on dealing with our European neighbors as friends, rather than as foes,” she said.

“But equally, we’re not talking about a comprehensive and thorough renegotiation — quite the contrary.”

No. 10 Downing Street agrees the shift is less profound than some media observers — or grumbling Tory MPs — would like to think.

A No. 10 aide said Sunak sees his diplomatic efforts as “normal government,” noting that “we’ve just forgotten what it looks like” after the turmoil of the post-Brexit era.

“I know it’s following Brexit and all that nonsense we’ve seen over the last few years, and it’s nice to see any small win or small argument to bridge that divide, but this is just normal government relations,” the aide said.

Labour pains

Sunak, of course, is 18 points behind in the opinion polls and faces an uphill struggle to stay in office at a general election expected next year.

But his opponent, U.K. Labour leader Keir Starmer, has made clear he too wants closer cooperation with Europe should he seize power.

Starmer said this month a future Labour government would use the upcoming review of the post-Brexit trade deal, expected in 2025 or 2026, as a chance to reduce border checks through the signing of a veterinary agreement and to increase U.K.-EU mobility for some sectors of the economy.

And he told a conference in Montreal last weekend that that “we don’t want to diverge from the EU” in areas such as working conditions or environmental standards.

These comments were seized upon by Tory ministers as evidence that Starmer would bring the U.K. even further into the EU’s orbit than he has publicly admitted — something the Labour leader denies. Tory campaigners hope to use such comments in campaign attacks painting Starmer as an anti-Brexit europhile.

But some observers suggest such political attacks are ironic, given Sunak’s own direction of travel. Barnard, quoted above, says that “what Keir Starmer was saying in Canada last week is pretty much a description of where we’re at at the moment.”

A senior moderate Tory MP said that despite the attacks on Starmer, Sunak is “not overly ideological when it comes to the EU.”

“There’s always been a belief in Brussels that we would inevitably come crawling back to them, and we’re seeing that a bit now,” they said.

Nevertheless, it is unclear how much closer Britain and the EU can get without a fundamental renegotiation of the terms of Brexit — something all sides insist is off the table.

One area for agreement is the need for enhanced security and defence links, with next year’s European Political Community Summit in Britain providing a potential opportunity for further announcements.

Some in Westminster speculate that this could come in the form of Britain joining individual projects of the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation — a body which coordinates the bloc’s security and defence policy. The European Council invited Britain to join its “military mobility project” alongside Canada, Norway and the U.S. in November 2022.

Anand Menon, director of the UK in a Changing Europe think tank , said he’s “not convinced” of the potential benefits for Britain, considering the U.K.’s existing position in NATO and other organizations.

He believes the British government will run out of road in finding mutually beneficial areas of cooperation with Brussels.

“The EU is relatively happy with the status quo,” Menon said. “It’s only in the U.K. where people say we need to move closer … There are so many bigger fish to fry for the EU.”

Source : Politico

You may also like

Yew Media is a global leader in the online news. We seek to inform and engage with our readers. Staffed 24 hours, seven days a week by a dedicated team around the globe, we deliver news from journalists around the world. We are contrarian truth-seekers and truthtellers. We are journalists united by a mission to inform and engage with our readers. We bear witness to history as it unfolds and explain not just what happened, why it happened and what it means to our readers and the public. We are contrarian, we are committed to the news, speaking truth to power.

Yew Media, A Media Company – All Right Reserved.