Where is Britain going with this whole Brexit thing? Even the experts can’t decide. This is one of many debates to come.
Although we complain a lot about UCL (“What do you mean there’s no entrance through here?!”) it undeniably provides us with plenty of events worth abandoning the library for. One of these was “Negotiating Brexit – Key Challenges Ahead”, organised by the UCL European Institute, which aimed to predict how this mess Britain got itself into could be dealt with.
The panel consisted of three speakers: Dr Amelia Hadfield (an expert on Common Security and Defence Policy), Jonathan Portes (a specialist in the area of immigration and labour market), Professor Piet Eeckhout (a lecturer at UCL specialising in EU law and trade), and a question master – Professor Nathaniel Copsey (an expert on EU-UK relations). Quentin Peel from Chatham House was chairing the discussion.
To begin with Mr Portes shed some light on the issue of migration. He stressed that free movement is mainly about the absence of obstacles in the workplace; currently all EU citizens automatically have the right to work and study in the UK, which could no longer be the case after Brexit. It seems to me that the government could have it both ways by reassuring Leave voters that free movement is no more, while at the same time handing out visas to pretty much everyone who needs them.
When it came to foreign and security policy Dr Hadfield saw three possible models of cooperation between the UK and the EU. If Britain was to be an integrated player then there would be some form of an “EU + 1” agreement with close cooperation, also at an institutional level. As an associated observer the UK would remain institutionally detached, although it would have a special status. The last model – a detached observer – is pretty straightforward: “we want none of your European security”.
Finally the issue of international trade. Even though no one really knows what trade will look like after Brexit (surprise!), some issues will be more problematic than others. Regulations seem to be doomed to cause the UK government quite a headache as most of the ones present in the UK trade have been created by the EU. There is also a question of all sorts of non-tariff barriers – licences, quotas, standards, administration – which will need to be agreed on. Look out for job offers from the government, there are going to be plenty!
Most of the questions to the panel were asked by Professor Copsey, who is currently working for the Europe Directorate at the Foreign Commonwealth Office. Mr Peel tried his best to make him reveal at least the tiniest secret. Unfortunately, when asked whether he could hint at how the newly created UK institutions are approaching the question of future Brexit negotiations, Prof Copsey broke our hearts: “I could, but I won’t”.
Final questions from the audience focused on the status of Scotland and Northern Ireland. ‘Wexit’ was ruled out. And yes, there will have to be a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, due to the control of goods. How is that going to work? Prof Copsey’s lips were sealed. His comparison of him being awarded the Jean Monnet Chair post (named after one of the fathers of the European integration) in 2013 to someone being given the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union in 1990 was entertaining, though.
Overall, we don’t know much – but there’s no reason to panic just yet. We still have exciting elections in Germany and France coming. Oh, and there’s always the United States. When asked if Canada had a problem with the U.S., Dr Hadfield (a Canadian herself) simply suggested: “Let’s reconvene after what I hope is not going to be a Trumpocalypse”.
See you on November 9 then.
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