203: Brexit and public affairs: What are organisations up to? (Part 1)
Blog written by Jonathan Millins, Head of the Brussels Office
East of England European Partnership
Jonathan Millins was appointed Head of the East of England office in Brussels in December 2014 where he is responsible for representing the region to the EU institutions and providing the strategic direction and management of the East of England European Partnership.
There is little doubt that Brexit is dominating the political agenda. But it is not always clear how organisations are coping with the undoubted challenges and what action they are taking, particularly when thinking about relations between the UK and EU, as well as their cities and regions, post-Brexit.
With this in mind, we thought it would be useful to ask a number of organisations – EU and UK-based – to share their experiences in a series of periodic guest posts. We hope you find them useful.
We are really pleased that Jonathan Vorss-Millins, Head of Office, for the East of England European Partnership based in Brussels has kindly agree to kick things off with us.
How are you deciding what your main Brexit priorities are?
The East of England office in Brussels is overseen by the East of England Europe and International Panel. Representing all 52 local councils, the Panel provides strategic and political direction on all major issues. It comprises ten councillors from all political parties across the East of England, alongside representatives from universities, local enterprise partnerships, civil society and business.
Our partners have a crucial role in identifying our Brexit priorities, which includes; the future of state aid (Assisted Area Status), Horizon 2020, Erasmus and Interreg programmes, skills and mobility of labour and domestic replacement to EU structural funds.
Do you think there will be changes to the way the UK Regions are represented in Brussels today?
The East of England office is marking its 20th anniversary in 2018. Originally established to lobby the EU on structural funds and operated via the now defunct Regional Assembly, it now has a strong partnership approach focused on a wide range of policies. I think UK regional offices will still have a presence but the services will differ in order to reflect a new EU-UK relationship.
How is your attention split between the UK, Brussels and even Member States?
Before the Brexit referendum, more than 80% of our activity was focused on the EU institutions and other regions in Brussels. The split has now significantly changed, with the majority of our work now focused on London and ensuring our region’s voice is heard during the Brexit negotiations. Our work in Brussels remains important, as we make the case that places like the East of England should continue to access EU programmes, like the North Sea Programme and 2 Seas Programme. These programmes are beneficial to both UK and EU regions and we have been working closely with colleagues from the North Sea Commission to make this argument.
What can the UK realistically achieve?
The British Prime Minister laid out her vision for future UK – EU relations in two speeches. Given the ‘red lines’ she spoke about, the most the UK can reasonably achieve will be a Ukraine (minus) / Canada (plus) style arrangement with the EU. Whilst disappointing to many remain voters, this is very much what the leave supporters are looking for.
Are you worried about the UK’s reputation being damaged across the EU when it remains our largest economic market?
In the short-term, yes. Brexit is undoubtedly damaging the UK’s reputation, not just within the EU but globally. Many of our international partners don’t understand why the UK wants to leave the EU. Whilst the UK government seeks to spread the message of ‘Global Britain’ and a country that wants to be open to the world, the message is not realised yet.
Part of our job is to continue promoting partnerships, business links and opportunities with East of England partners.
Ever since the referendum, we have been working closely with our Local Enterprise Partnerships and councils to ensure businesses receive accurate information on what to expect from Brexit. We are now going further in our efforts to support business, including working closely with the Essex County Council office in Nanjing, China, to help provide access to new markets.
What would be your main ask of the UK and EU?
In a word: compromise. These might be painful political or ideological compromises, but only with understanding from both sides can a final deal be reached. The UK will have to compromise on some of its red lines, potentially over the Customs Union and jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
From the EU, this may include services and customs. We have seen the EU compromise in recent agreements with Canada and Ukraine and in some respects in the December 2017 Joint Report with the UK concerning the financial settlement and citizens’ rights.
This kind of political will is necessary to reach a final agreement on Brexit.