Tag Archives: Brexit

“A Far Away Country” and how Britain could exit NATO

A Royal Norwegian Air Force F-35 Lightning II takes off from Keflavík Airport in Iceland as part of NATO’s Air policing mission. Photo copyright: NATO

by Dr Andrew Black
Senior Research Fellow at Global Policy Institute; Senior Research Fellow, Brunel Business School

27th May 2020

How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.”  —Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister
Broadcast before leaving on September 27, 1938 for a meeting with Hitler, Daladier of France and Mussolini of Italy


Following the 2016 referendum that gave a slim majority to the Brexiteers, the European Union planted its flag in an area long resisted by Britain, that of defence. The EU would now add to its responsibilities a duty to protect EU citizens, and to protect the EU.  And following on from that, and building on earlier initiatives, a series of new acronyms emerged.

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Weaponising the Exit Agreement: the ongoing Irish dimension of Brexit

by Dr Andrew Blick
Reader in Politics and Contemporary History at King’s College London; Senior Research Fellow at the Federal Trust

20th May 2020

Prior to the referendum of 23 June 2016, little attention was given at UK level to its possible implications for Northern Ireland. But in the wake of the ‘leave’ result of 23 June 2016, many issues that – though knowable in advance – were neglected, now became impossible to ignore. Northern Ireland is a focus for a number of complications associated with Brexit for the following reasons:

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Where will the jet-set go after Brexit?

by Bob Savic
Senior Research Fellow at the Global Policy Institute; Visiting Professor at the Asia Research Institute, Nottingham University

18th May 2020

An interesting side-effect of Brexit is that currently, UK tax-resident non-domicile individual clients are increasingly, and understandably, seeking alternative residence in largely English-speaking European jurisdictions, such as Malta and Cyprus. They want above all to secure their EU citizenship post the UK’s EU transition period, which may possibly expire by the end of this year. 

Malta is one of the many EU countries which offers a High Net Worth Individual “HNWI” Residence Scheme for non-EU nationals.  Many EU states also provide the same, including Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Greece, among others.  The principal difference in the attractiveness of Malta and Cyprus, for HNWIs and their UK-based families, essentially revolves around these countries’ English-speaking environments.  Clearly, Ireland is also English-speaking, the problem is that its weather is overwhelmingly influenced from the cold, wet and blustery Atlantic, rather than the warm, dry and breezy Mediterranean, and therefore, doesn’t attract many of the global jet-set to settle there. The question, though, is how much would the British government tolerate a decline in global HNWIs choosing to settle in the UK, preferring instead another location in the EU.  Perhaps it’s not an issue for the mainly Kensington-dwelling and Eton-educated Brexit political class who’ve been somewhat reportedly pushed out of their traditional wealthy central London neighbourhoods and elite public schools, in recent years, by the overseas nouveaux riche?  But in the end, Brexit is not just about keeping out Europeans, it’s also going to deter wealthy non-Europeans settling here and doing their bit in flying the flag for the Johnson government’s “Global Britain” enterprise. 

In any case, let’s see how Johnson et al fare in coming months.  At the beginning of the so-called Brexit government’s tenure in office, I had suspected it could well fall by the end of this year, given the likelihood it was not going to effectively manage the coronavirus pandemic which looked set to befall the UK. I had monitored in great detail the pandemic’s deadly proliferation in China, back in January, and subsequent contagion in neighbouring Asia.  Unfortunately, with great sadness, Covid-19’s impact on Britain – suffering the highest number of deaths in Europe – was even worse than I actually anticipated! Needless to say, the political backlash to this government’s frequent mishandling of the crisis, has probably only just started.  By Autumn, following a likely summer lull, as weary Britain takes the opportunity to soak in a bit of outdoors sun, mainly in their backgardens and public parks, the ensuing political furore is likely to gain traction.  It’s now only a short matter of time before the populace realise that “England Alone” simply isn’t going to make it in a world where interconnectedness, especially regional, is of paramount importance in the face of a deadly and globally-mobile virus alongside its economically-debilitating consequences.  

In the meantime, here’s a link to an article I recently wrote and which was published with The Diplomat (based in Washington DC, it is a highly-regarded online publication read by global business, academia and government on Asia-Pacific) where I argue that food security alongside strong national and intergovernmental support, in this vital sector, is one reason to maintain close regional interdependence.  This food supply interdependence was severely tested among the 10 states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations “ASEAN” and China, during the COVID-19 pandemic there, yet, even in the face of powerful forces urging national governments to fall back on themselves, the region’s governments still managed to weather the storm for their collective wellbeing – a lesson this government should take on board if we are to secure our own future within a region we are inextricably a part of.

Brexit, Transition and Ireland

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

6th May 2020

Eight months before the end of the transition period the British government seems intent upon two courses of action which will exacerbate the inevitable political and economic damage to the United Kingdom when it finally withdraws from the European treaties. The government has, first, made clear that it will not seek in any circumstances an extension to the transition period; and, second, its self-serving and implausible interpretation of the Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland has created well-founded doubts in the EU’s collective mind about its good faith on this and related issues.

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How will COVID-19 impact Brexit?

by John Stevens
Chairman of the Federal Trust; Former Member of the European Parliament (1989 – 1999)

4th May 2020

In the latest iteration of the unempathetic essence of their cause a debate is emerging amongst the supporters of Brexit over whether the crisis created by the COVID-19 virus will prove politically to be a help or a hindrance. It is most apparent in the issue of whether the United Kingdom should accept an extension of the transition period for leaving the European Union beyond the present deadline of the end of this year. But it also infuses discussion (or lack of it) over the appropriate exit strategy from the on-going lock-down and even impinges on collateral controversies as varied as those over the Government’s procurement of protective equipment for health and care workers and our future relations with China.

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Moving beyond the Brexit divide? Options for the new Labour leadership

by Dr Andrew Blick
Reader in Politics and Contemporary History at King’s College London; Senior Research Fellow at the Federal Trust

27th April 2020

In the space of a few weeks, many central assumptions of UK politics have shifted. This movement of plates is in large part attributable to the Coronavirus episode, but not wholly. I will return to the consequences of the pandemic later. The most obvious dramatic change that is not a consequence of this global emergency is the election of Sir Keir Starmer as leader of the Labour Party. In any circumstances, Starmer was surely the candidate that the Conservative Party least wanted to see win the contest. His success – and the considerable shift in the balance of power within Labour it both signifies and facilitates – has gone some way to restoring the impression of a credible opposition able to challenge and expose the government – and perhaps begin to present itself as a potential government itself.

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Covid-19, Corona Bonds and “Kicking the can down the road”

Eurogroup President Mario Centeno at the Eurogroup video conference on 9th April. Photo credit: European Union

by Dr Andrew Black
Senior Research Fellow at Global Policy Institute; Senior Research Fellow, Brunel Business School

17th April 2020

What I see is European construction drifting towards a free-trade zone, that is to say an English-style Europe, which I reject. If we do nothing, this will lead in 15 years to a break-up. I reject a Europe that would be just a market, a free-trade zone without a soul, without a conscience, without political will, without a social dimension.

Jacques Delors Interview (c. 16/17 October 1993), quoted in The Times (19 October 1993), p. 11

It is a curious thought that while Britain has opted to leave the EU, so it has managed to infect the EU with its own free market virus. A virus that Jacques Delors thought would lead to the collapse of the EU by 2008 – the year of the Great Financial Crisis (GFC). The EU, and more particularly the Eurozone, survived that crisis, only to limp on into the next one, caused by the Covid-19 virus.

As the various countries in the Eurozone (EZ) moved into lockdown mode, so they enacted a variety of national measures designed to alleviate the economic pain caused by Covid-19. A rapid survey of existing measures revealed that the sum total of designated fiscal measures to prop up the economy (including Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands) amounts to around € 500 billion. This represents the addition of those measures announced as having some kind of financial ceiling. Most of these countries have also entered into what are open ended and in some cases unlimited commitments to subsidize the cost of wages and salaries, both for larger companies as well as for SMEs and for the self employed. These could amount to a similar total, suggesting that combined support on offer by EZ countries could be in the region of € 1 trillion. Before thinking that this looks like a generous sum, consider that the USA (federal government) has currently offered US$ 2.8 trillion (€ 2.57 trillion) to support personal incomes and company liquidity through the Covid-19 crisis. This is wrapped into a single piece of legislation, called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES for short. This was passed on March 27th with bipartisan support by Congress, and shows that federations can act swiftly when needed.

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Brexit: Transition in a time of pandemic

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

15th April 2020

Michel Barnier and David Frost are due to resume today (15th April) their negotiations interrupted by the Coronavirus. If Brexit were a project built on rational economic or political foundations, the British government would by now have sought an extension of the transition period for the UK’s exit from the European Union. The deadline of 31st December 2020 was always an ambitious one for agreeing even the general outlines of the UK’s future relationship with the EU. The economic and political disruption caused throughout Europe by the Coronavirus pandemic has now turned the retention of this disruptive deadline into an act of wanton self-harm for the UK.  No rational argument has ever been put forward by the government for maintaining this deadline, beyond the mantric repetition by its spokesmen of ministers’ refusal to countenance delay.  The transition period, we are told, will end on 31st December 2020 because that is the date on which the British government insists it will end.

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Scotland, the UK and Brexit: Changing Politics at a Time of Crisis

by Dr Kirsty Hughes
Director, Scottish Centre on European Relations

6th April 2020

This comment was first published by Scottish Centre on European Relations

Covid-19 has put much of the debate, and the talks, on the future UK-EU relationship on pause. But the political debate will return – not least with the question of whether the UK government will ask to extend transition by the end of June, and too with the resumption of intensive negotiations, whenever the development of the corona crisis allows.

There is much speculation and argument already about the impact of the crisis on UK, European and wider politics. Whether that new context would allow for a ‘softer’ Brexit rather than the hard, basic free trade deal that Boris Johnson has aspired to until now is perhaps an open question. But it is probably not seen as an open one right now by a UK government still tied to its pre-crisis mantra of freedom from EU regulations and its myth of a renewed global Britain.

Renewed Debate on the UK-EU Relationship?

If, though, there is a longer transition with the UK still in the EU’s single market and customs union until the end of 2021 or even 2022 then this debate would surely recur. And, if so, it will recur in a changed and changing politics both in the UK and in the European Union. In the EU, debate is intensifying, and divisions are deep, over the nature of support for the inevitable and crucial sharp increase in debt needed to recover from the crisis. How the EU resolves that question is fundamental for its future politics and solidarity – or lack thereof.

In the UK, there is much debate to come over how the crisis has, and will have, been handled: how to fund the NHS after a decade of damaging austerity, how to tackle inequality and low pay. The Conservative government may have a majority of 80 but that will not mean it can simply stay on track with its pre-crisis policies of a hard, gung-ho Brexit plus a bit of infrastructure spending for the north of England. The scale of the health and economic challenges and policy responses will ensure that.

New Labour leader, Keir Starmer, faces big challenges and, too, opportunities in this time of crisis and flux. The language of national unity he is choosing to employ may seem statesmanlike to some but is unlikely to cut it for long if these political opportunities are to be grasped. And the EU and Brexit questions are not going to disappear nor be any easier, quite likely, than they have been for Labour in the last four years. And the political and constitutional challenge of Labour’s weak support in Scotland, and the independence debate post-Brexit, will not disappear off the agenda either.

Extending Brexit Transition

The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, has called on Labour to join the SNP in demanding an extension to transition. It would surely be hard for Labour not to do this – imposing a second major shock on the existing and developing one from the corona crisis is something that needs to be left as the choice of the Tory government alone, if that is their choice.

But Keir Starmer might be forgiven for not entirely welcoming the prospect of an extended transition. It would be easier, in many ways, to critique and oppose a basic and damaging UK-EU free trade deal or even, as is still possible, a no deal Brexit, than it will be to develop strategic new policies on managing Brexit. As Brexit shadow, Starmer presided over a policy that argued the UK should stay in the EU’s customs union and close to, but not in, its single market (with more fudge over whether and when to back a second referendum). The relationship to the single market was never clearly explained – all part of the tortuous Labour Brexit fudge.

If the Brexit transition is extended into 2021, then Labour will not be able to avoid the question of what its Brexit policy now is: does it still want to be in the customs union but not in the single market (a policy that was always remarkably close to Theresa May’s deal)? Or does it have a new Brexit vision? This would be easier to avoid as a question, fudge some more even, if Johnson was tying up a basic, bad deal by October this year.

Scotland, Brexit Transition and the 2021 Elections

And in Scotland, while the focus for now is on managing the corona crisis – and with the fall-out from the Salmond trial only just beginning – the question of the UK and Scotland’s future relationship with the EU will not go away. The SNP back an extension of transition. Their policy of a ‘soft’ Brexit as a compromise – staying in the EU’s single market and customs union – is straightforward (despite the democratic deficit it entails). And UK business – in the face of a transition extension and a deep recession – may well make more noise about that option too.

But an extension of transition potentially opens up a bigger prize for the SNP: of having a second independence referendum before the end of transition. This assumes the May 2021 Holyrood elections are held on time and that there is an SNP majority. And it leaves open the crucial process question of London-Edinburgh agreement on holding another vote. But the corona crisis and a potential extension of transition nonetheless would change the debate around an independent Scotland in the EU.

Pre-corona, it looked clear that Scotland, having left the EU with the rest of the UK, would diverge to some extent from the EU and face an accession process that could be fairly quick but certainly not seamless. But a possible ‘yes’ vote before the UK had left the EU’s single market and customs union, could bring back discussion of a possible ‘holding pen’ for Scotland.

Certainly, the extension of transition would not be long enough for there to be an independence referendum and a negotiated split from the UK. But if Scotland voted ‘yes’ before the end of an extended transition – perhaps even before the end of UK-EU talks – then how Scotland’s transition to the EU should be handled would look rather different and potentially smoother.

Of course, the UK government will be well aware of this. And Johnson may not give up on his rapid and basic Brexit deal mantra yet. But this question will go up the political agenda in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, Keir Starmer has already said that in opposition he wants to hold a constitutional convention that will apply a “principle of federalism and a new settlement for the UK.” But how fast will this convention happen and would the outcome simply be offered as part of Labour’s manifesto at the next election? There would be a strong argument for any new settlement to be tested in a referendum – and certainly in Scotland for there to be a choice between that new settlement and independence. Starmer may hope to kick all these questions down the road a year or two (or more). But in the face of the corona crisis, Brexit, and Scotland’s upcoming elections, these questions will surely be asked and need answering much more swiftly than that.

Where Will the Crisis Go Next?

The corona crisis is likely to turn UK and EU politics upside down much more than it has so far. The core questions and debates may change deeply – for better and for worse. But what sort of UK, Scotland, and EU, socially, democratically and economically, we are likely to see and want to see will surely be amongst the questions being asked.

How well or badly the EU comes through the crisis is a crucial question. A fragmented and divided EU will not be set fair to lead the European recovery that will be needed, let alone ensure it is a green one designed to tackle climate change (and show international leadership) while underpinning economic recovery. But an EU that manages to find its solidarity and step up to the crisis will be in a much stronger position – at home and globally. Either way, though in different circumstances, there is likely to be increased debate about what the future EU should do, how it should develop, what its role at home and internationally needs to be.

A UK not set on a hard Brexit might want to be part of that European debate. Thinking anew about how the UK fits in a reviving or restructuring European scene could, perhaps, be constructive, strategic even. This is a challenge for political parties across the UK. Alternatively, a UK continuing down a hard Brexit route might look like a more familiar sight – but in the face of a deep recession or deeper depression, that would not be politics as usual either. In a different political and economic landscape, the UK will still not be able to avoid questions of its relationship to the rest of Europe.

How the Scottish independence debate will change, including its relationship to the EU, and to the rest of the UK, is also an open question. It is not about to go away as an issue. But the context of the debate looks set to change as Scotland, the UK, the EU and the rest of the world navigate their way through this extraordinary crisis. Where the future UK-EU relationship goes, and where UK politics and economics goes in the next few years will be key questions here.

And one fact will remain for now – the UK has already left the European Union. So however much politics changes in the coming months and years, the UK and Scotland will have to navigate their future relationship with the EU. The question of an extension of the Brexit transition may look like a pre-corona crisis question. But in fact its a question emerging from the crisis. And how this next Brexit question is answered will be one important part of how UK and Scottish politics unfolds through this crisis.

How is the Coronavirus likely to affect post Brexit immigration?

by Vicky Pryce
Economist & Business Consultant; Board member at the Centre for Economic an Business Research and former Joint Head of the UK Government Economic Service

6th April 2020

I remember in a long past age – ok, just a couple of decades ago – how the family was gripped by the then new tv series 24, where Kiefer Sunderland, son of Donald, went through an action-packed hour each week as the clock ticked down the 24 hours – fighting the bad guys, being misunderstood by his superiors, caring for his family, and in such a frenetic way that left you exhausted after the hour was over each time. By the end of the 24 hours he had always saved the planet – or at least the US. Well, for 24 hours read the 31 days of the month of March – a bit longer but just as intense, except we are still in suspense about its ending.

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