Jun 01 2021
Beyond Brexit: Redefining the Relationship Between the EU and the UK

Friday 28 May 2021 – Event Report

On Friday May 28th, Kekst CNC were delighted to host the panel discussion “Beyond Brexit: Redefining the Relationship Between the EU and the UK”. The event brought together Sir Robbie Gibb, European Parliament Vice-President Roberta Metsola, and former Commissioner Günther H. Oettinger and was moderated by Benjamin Fox, EURACTIV’s Brexit correspondent. With almost 100 attendees from across Europe, the session provided a lively debate, and valuable insight on what to expect from the future partnership between the entities.

Roberta Metsola pointed out that the EU institutions and in particular the European Parliament very quickly accepted the fact that after the referendum, Brexit had become inevitable. So, the mindset was from the start quite pragmatic and focussed on how best to manage the process, rather than fight the decision. Sir Robbie Gibb replied that on the UK side there is a strong feeling that some parties on the EU side still have difficulties coming to terms with the fact that the UK vote was a choice for sovereignty. Failing to understand this, is one of the underlying reasons for a lot of the misunderstandings and difficulties in finding common ground on some of the issues. Where the EU side is pushing for alignment and convergence, the UK side remains very sensitive about not becoming a “rule-taker” but having the flexibility to steer its own course. The UK on the other hand misjudged the EU’s determination to protect the integrity of its internal market, which explains why it seemed to have turned a blind eye when it came to the realities of the deal, especially with certain issues such as the border in Northern Ireland.

Nevertheless, all panellists agreed that although imperfect, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, was a starting point to work from towards the needed and expected greater normalization of the relationship. It is now key for the EU and UK to work through specific sectoral deals. The challenge will be to strike the right balance between market competition, which is positive, while avoiding the perception that divergence in standards and regulations is used to provide a competitive advantage.

Günther Oettinger pointed out that the UK and the EU have many aligned interests globally and are objective allies when it comes to regulating policy areas such as climate change, renewable energy, security issues and many more.

There was also much welcome news for the City, and the future of Financial Services in London. Günther Oettinger made it clear that the EU accepts that London will remain a global powerhouse for financial markets and services and that the EU will continue to benefit from its proximity. Roberta Metsola emphasized that there is an increased determination among members of the European Parliament that moving forward with an agreement in this area is beneficial to both consumers, investors and the industry – with many calling for a re-energised focus on ironing out the gaps in the current agreement.

Moving forward both sides have very important questions to address. In the coming months ahead, Roberta Metsola said we should expect to hear the EU making a very clear case for the Union towards critical citizens, highlighting the success of its vaccination programme and the support made available to member states through the European Recovery and Resilience Facility, the European Union’s largest stimulus package ever, to address the economic effects of the current pandemic.

Sir Robbie Gibb stressed that the UK public is increasingly confident in its decision to leave the EU and that it appears unlikely that there will be any significant political movement arguing for re-joining the European Union in the near future. This has been buoyed by the huge domestic success of the British vaccine rollout, the apparent rapidity in signing new trade agreements across the world and the flexibility of the government’s economic support throughout the pandemic.

As the pandemic recedes, the realities of Brexit with regard to trade and travel may become more apparent and the debate around the future relationship is likely to continue as practicalities replace ideologies as the key political priorities.

Thank you to all who attended the event, which was a clear reminder that now more than ever, businesses looking to engage with public authorities both at UK as EU level, might need support in navigating sensitivities on both sides. If you have any questions regarding this event or would like to discuss with our well connected and integrated Public Affairs teams in London, Brussels, Berlin, Stockholm or Paris please do get in touch.