On December 6, 2018, the Institute for Politics and Society hosted a business breakfast on the topic of Brexit, specifically its economic consequences and outcomes in the United Kingdom, Europe and the Czech Republic in particular. The institute was honored to have Nick Archer and Dita Charanzová as speakers. Nick Archer is the ambassador of the UK in the Czech Republic and Dita Charanzová is member of the European Parliament and Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. The discussion was moderated by Jan Macháček, Chairman of the Board of Trustee of the Institute for Politics and Society.
After welcoming all attendees, Jan Macháček opened the debate with a short opening statement in which he outlined the current situation of the Brexit process. As negotiatiors from Brussels and the UK managed to come to an agreement there will soon be a vote in the British parliament on whether the deal will be accepted but there is a considerable chance that the proposal will not make it through. In this case, according to Macháček, there would be small deals made on separate issues while there will be new negotiations. A new vote on Brexit is also a possibility. After this initial statement Macháček gave the floor to Mr. Archer who then gave his own account on the situation from the perspective of a British diplomat and spokesperson.
Mr. Archer started by underlining the fact that the Brexit situation is constantly changing. But, in spite of a widespread state of panic in European media coverage and politicians, Archer stated that, even though the Prime Minister is under both international and domestic pressure, she continues to sell the deal and negotiate with Brussels on the basis of what is the best possible deal for her country under the current circumstances. Going into Brexit everyone knew that it was going to be difficult but besides the deal that is currently on the table there is no plan B. Brussels current mood on the deal seems to be positive. According to Archer, what could have helped the negotiation process was genuine discussion about a future partnership framework between the EU and the UK. The British side has argued from the start that negotiations were too structured by the EU, which did not make the process as smooth as it could have been.
Ms. Charanzová agreed that the mood in Brussels on the current proposal is positive, despite the fact that Brexit is not a positive development for anyone, including the Czech economy. However, the current situation is still insecure, the UK parliament still needs to vote on the issue and between now and the UK exit date in March 2019, anything can happen. The deal that is now proposed is a good deal, but what the outcome for the UK will be is unsure. Charanzová stated that a negative vote of the parliament is very well possible, in that case other creative options to come to a solution would be possible on the side of the EU. A true ‘no deal’ would be the worst case scenario both for the UK and the EU, as the UK would have to revert to the WTO trade regime while the EU still has its own rules. Besides a negative vote, Charanzová also would not be surprised by a new referendum in the UK in which its citizens will vote on whether they accept the deal of whether they would rather stay in the EU after all.
After these initial statements, lively discussion between the panel and the audience continued in which the consequences of Brexit in the UK and Europe was discussed with a focus on trade. After Ms. Charanzová’s mention of the possibility of a second referendum, Mr. Archer mentioned that such a second referendum is not on the government’s agenda as it is seen as undermining the popular choice of leaving. Instead of reversing Brexit, the current government is trying to persuade the British people to support the current deal instead.
Ms. Charanzová went on to mention that besides economic consequences, Brexit also has a negative effect on other parts of EU cooperation. For example: there probably would be more EU cooperation on areas such as defense (PeSCo) if Brexit did not happen. Regarding trade, she said, forming a bloc is the best move. By creating a strong front towards, for example, the US and China, groups are able to come to better trade deals. Mr. Archer followed by stating that he does not agree that there are no positive consequences of Brexit. Regaining control over laws, borders and money is seen as a major positive point in Britain. Moreover, after the initial deal, the real talks will start in which the UK will ensure to maintain close ties with the EU. Britain expects to come to better trade agreements regarding, for example, its services with the US. These agreements will not come easily but Britain expects to eventually be able to move more freely in the worldwide economic sphere by being independent.
Ms. Charanzová disagreed with the latter, as in her opinion practice shows that negotiating as a bloc is more effective because such a group has more to offer. In addition to that, she said, the UK will no longer be around the table in order to influence legislation and it will thus miss its voice in future and current EU negotiations. Mr. Archer added to this that the UK indeed will have to make a new diplomatic structure that is able to deal with this new position in the EU and will be able to influence the EU from the outside. Britain sees this as a price worth paying to have more freedom to establish new trade relations.