235: The Brexit outcome? Europe will be more important than ever
Despite the ongoing saga that is Brexit, there will be one clear outcome. UK businesses will need to do more to engage with Europe, its institutions and its Member States. But how?
The release of the House of Lords European Union Committee report, ‘Beyond Brexit: How to Win Friends and Influence People’ provides some really useful pointers as to what Westminster and our political institutions need to do in a post-Brexit environment.
On the political side, the Committee highlights the need for ongoing scrutiny of EU legislative proposals, maintaining a check on the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration; scrutiny of the negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship; and enhanced inter-parliamentary dialogue.
So UK politicians will still need to think about the EU and how what it does relates to us. But what about businesses, and others, whose operations will be impacted by what the European Commission and Parliament do?
For those who appreciate the need for constructive engagement there are channels they should be thinking about now:
- UK’s Representation to the EU in Brussels – the embassy is developing plans for what it will look like post-Brexit and is also considering how best to engage with organisations in the establishment of its position. It will be the main UK channel into the European institutions so should be the cornerstone of any engagement. If you can’t get your ‘home’ team on board then why would anyone else listen?
- UK Parliament – if Westminster is to continue to maintain engagement with the EU institutions then this cannot just be driven by the politics. Instead, they need to know and understand the concerns of business which they can use to inform their engagement.
- International bodies – as the Lords report notes, the UK will still be involved in bodies such as the G7, G20, NATO and the United Nations and they, in turn, will still have relationships with the EU. So we need to think about what the role and position of each of these will be. Each have their own ways of working so will require their own engagement strategy.
- Member States – we will need to think about engaging directly with Member States not least because they retain their formal roles in EU policy-making. Their influence and support will be critical. The Foreign Office has already, as stated in the Lords report, ‘placed an emphasis on revitalising bilateral links with EU Member States, and the increased resourcing of diplomatic missions across Member State capitals.’ So there will be formal channels to consider using as well as direct engagement. The development of friends and allies in the Member States should be part of the approach as well.
- EU institutions – whilst the task may be a difficult and steep one, there is no fundamental reason why direct engagement should not continue to take place. It will need to be backed up with other engagement to reinforce the approach, such as directly with Member States, otherwise the token Brit turning up to ‘Britsplain’, probably loudly, the issues, will not be well received. The formal role may disappear but the soft power may be retained a little longer.
- EU bodies – trade, membership, representative and other bodies will continue to operate in Brussels and will continue to engage directly in policy development. They will retain their fundamental importance and should be prioritised.
- Devolved administrations – this should not just be about a focus on the actions of Westminster both here and abroad. Instead the devolved institutions have (or will have) offices in Brussels and cities may well decide to have representation there as well. This is, for example, very much the case for Norwegian entities.
- Networks – the nature of the relationships may change but it is important to maintain existing contacts for intelligence, feedback and, hopefully, influence as well. Old friends should never be forgotten.
We can all become obsessed by the day-to-day progress, or lack of it, of Brexit. Westminster will have a large job to do in rebuilding the trust of the public whatever the outcome.
But whatever eventually happens, our relationship with Europe has changed. Now is the time to start thinking about those future relationships.