Strategic Change or Brexit Failure: Is the UK Seeking to Restore Its Relations With the EU?

Murad Jandali | a year ago




In the midst of the severe economic crisis that the United Kingdom is going through, between strikes that cover all parts of the kingdom, high inflation rates, and energy prices, it seems that there are some in the British government who want to cancel Brexit, which raises the possibility that Brexit was from the beginning a failure.

Bloomberg revealed that the British government is quietly planning to strengthen cooperation with the European Union that was severed after Brexit in 2020, especially in areas such as defense, immigration, and the economy, including trade, energy, and international standards.

However, a recent summit that brought together senior British politicians, both opponents, and supporters of Brexit, was the strongest evidence of the consensus of most political and economic circles that the Brexit deal in its current form has caused great damage to the British economy and reduced its influence in the world.


Strategic Change

According to what was reported by Bloomberg Agency on February 11, 2023, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak secretly asked senior ministers and officials to prepare plans to rebuild Britain’s relations with the EU.

Sunak’s senior government officials are also now drafting proposals for how Britain can work more closely with EU countries on a range of areas, namely defense, immigration, trade, energy, and international standards.

“The reality is that in a more dangerous world with growing authoritarianism and protectionism, there is no choice but to work closely with allies,” a British official told Bloomberg.

Another added that what Sunak is doing now is moving away from the madman’s strategy of previous clashes with Brussels, referring to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

A British official considered that this change in the UK’s strategy towards Europe is not an admission of the failure of Brexit but rather a reflection of a changing geopolitical reality, especially in light of the repercussions of the Ukraine war.

Among the proposals under consideration are a formal defense and security relation and dialogue between the UK and the EU, as well as a legal deal to allow the British military to join EU operations more easily.

The British government also wants to work more closely with the EU on joint defense exports, to deter non-European countries from entering into contracts with Russia and China.

According to Bloomberg, British officials are concerned about the possibility of British defense companies being excluded from defense contracts due to the EU’s single policy on defense exports, and they see a joint initiative as a way to hedge against this risk.

A British official said they told Sunak that strong trade ties with Europe would be essential for future economic challenges, in areas such as emerging technologies, and for dealing with threats such as global supply shocks and China.

According to a person familiar with the matter, there is no way the UK can be able to compete with the amount of subsidies offered by the US and the EU, so it should instead use diplomacy to negotiate the protection of British companies on both sides.

British ministers contacted their counterparts in the EU to urge them not to harm British companies, at a time when the bloc is studying its plan to support green industries on the continent in response to the US plan, according to Bloomberg.

London is also seeking to cooperate with Brussels in trade, especially in light of the weak growth experienced by the British economy since Brexit.

British officials also hope to be able to announce in the coming days a solution to the years-old dispute with the EU over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade arrangements.

Sunak’s team is looking forward to using this prospective breakthrough as a basis for a more comprehensive improvement in relations with the European bloc.

According to Bloomberg, an agreement has been passed on a technical level, although Sunak still has to convince Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party and the Conservatives’ Brexit supporters not to block the agreement.


Confidential Discussions

In the same context, the Observer newspaper stated in its report on February 12, 2023, that representatives of the ruling Conservative Party discussed with the opposition Labour Party, representatives of the business sector, and NATO the possibilities of the UK’s rapprochement with the EU during discussions held secretly in Ditchley Park, west London, on February 9 and 10, 2023.

The meeting was attended by British politicians and businessmen, whether they were supporters or opponents of Brexit, most notably the Minister of Development, Michael Gove, senior members of Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet, the former Conservative Party leader, Michael Howard, former Conservative chancellor Norman Lamont, former Labour Europe minister Gisela Stuart, and former Conservative minister David Lidington.

Also among the attendees were some figures far from the world of politics, such as John Symonds, chair of the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline; Oliver Robbins, Goldman Sachs managing director and former chief Brexit negotiator for the government from 2017 to 2019; Tom Scholar, the former Treasury permanent secretary; and Angus Lapsley, NATO assistant secretary general for defense policy and planning.

The source indicated that the meeting aims to address the problems that resulted from Brexit and discuss how to improve the UK’s relations with neighboring European countries, pointing out that the main motive is the losses of the British economy that Brexit could not compensate for, as the economy reached a very difficult situation.

According to the source, the meeting focused on the negative consequences of Brexit on the British economy, which is witnessing a state of instability in light of global instability and a significant rise in energy prices.

Michael Gove admitted that there were shortcomings in the kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU but insisted that this decision was correct in the long run.

According to the report, at least some of the participants considered that the UK has not yet found its way forward outside the EU and that Brexit has become an impediment to its growth and curbs the capabilities of the UK.

According to the statement issued by the meeting, the attendees did not discuss the issue of Britain’s return to the EU.

Nevertheless, the statement stressed the importance of the common interests of both the EU and the UK, especially in defense affairs and with regard to stopping Russian aggression against Ukraine, finding new sources of energy, and building major technology companies within the European continent and not only on American soil.

The meeting focused on the problem of the trade protocol in Northern Ireland, which is a major concern of EU officials, but the attendees did not reach any agreement in this regard.

It is noteworthy that concern is growing in the leadership of the Labour Party, specifically the possibility that the current Brexit deal will lead to the failure of any future government headed by the Labour Party, especially if the problems of trade transactions between the EU and the UK are not resolved.


Brexit Failure

A recent YouGov poll found that 63% of Britons think the government is handling Brexit badly.

The ruling Conservative Party is in such bad shape that opinion polls indicate that if a general election were held tomorrow, it wouldn’t even be the second-largest party.

According to reports and opinion polls, since Brexit, the British economy has performed seriously poorly. Many of its sectors have also experienced severe worker shortages due to a number of factors, including Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.

A study conducted by the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory in August 2022 also stated that evidence indicated that UK immigration policy was one of several factors contributing to the workforce shortage.

As many European workers left the UK for their home countries, and stricter entry requirements did not facilitate their return, the crisis resulted in negative impacts on a range of sectors, such as agriculture and tourism.

Under the UK’s new immigration rules, EU nationals no longer enjoy preferential treatment, and many low-skilled jobs are now off-limits to them.

Almost seven years after the Brexit referendum, the Guardian published, on February 13, 2023, a study conducted by a senior Bank of England official, which concluded that “the UK had lost business investments amounting to about $35 billion since the referendum until now.”

The study confirmed that investments in the private sector stopped completely in the years following the decision to leave the EU and that immediately after the referendum, Britain lagged behind the investment trend of previous years and suffered more compared to other advanced industrial economies, which led to a productivity gap that left permanent damage.

The study comes within another group of studies published recently, all of which talked about damage to the British economy as a result of Brexit, which left many question marks about the future of the British economy in the coming years.

In June 2016, about 52% of Britons voted to approve the UK’s exit from the EU in the referendum that was held to resolve this issue.