‘Brexit’ – a word we in Britain have heard an enormous amount of times, so much so it was named word of the year in 2016 by Collins English Dictionary! It is officially defined as ‘the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union’. But what does this actually mean? Although, Brexit is a highly used word amongst Brits do we actually know what the EU does and what Brexit means for our future with the EU? On the 2nd November Professor. Amelia Hadfield (CBE founder and Dean International), Dr. Jamie Shea (Former NATO spokesman), Paul Adamson (Founder and Editor of Encompass) and Barbara Serra (Award-winning journalist, TV presenter and documentary-maker) discussed these ongoing questions, some questions were answered and some still left unanswered in this uncertain time for the future of the UK – EU relationship.
Flaws in the EU?
During the roundtable, panelists did not shy away from making criticisms of the EU. Dr Jamie Shea who calls himself a “passionate European federalist” described the EU as “frustrating, slow, bureaucratic and disappointing”, Prof. Amelia Hadfield answered her question “when is a union not a union?” with highlighting that having pseudo unions such as the European Political Community (EPC) complicates things. Furthermore, Prof. Hadfield emphasised the lack of energy security in the EU due to its reliance on foreign investments which was highlighted by the Ukraine war. The panelists showed that there are flaws in the EU that have been highlighted by recent crises. However, what the EU has shown is how they can use crises to “push forward” as Dr Shea said and change their perspective on how things are done, for example Dr Shea discussed how the EU has decreased its dependency on foreign natural gas to tackle energy insecurity that Prof. Hadfield highlighted was present in the EU. Furthermore, during the COVID pandemic the EU used covid recovery challenges to raise finance and give grants to member states. The performance of the EU during recent crises has even incentivised leaders such as Giorgia Meloni of Italy to remain in the EU and keep relations strong. Although there are flaws in the EU there are also strengths which have been highlighted by recent crises.
It is evidently an uncertain time for energy security not only within the EU but also any other nation that relies on the supply of Russian gas. In respects to energy security the UK is not as dependent on natural gas as the EU and as Prof. Hadfield highlighted the EU has a very vulnerable energy security but despite this the EU and the UK need to collectively work together to find alternative solutions to this energy insecurity. One thing is for certain, it is a fractious time for energy security, and the EU needs to decrease its dependencies on foreign supplies if it wants to avoid any complications with energy security.
The EPC and what it means for the UK
What was interesting about this discussion is how the panelists spoke about the EPC and what it means for the future of Europe and the UK. The EPC was described as an “anti-chamber” for non-EU member states or specifically for the UK as a “rehab clinic” as Prof. Hadfield said. However, what was been demonstrated especially by Paul Adamson is the UK’s role in shaping the EPC and building a relationship with the EU in a different way. For those of us (myself included) who wanted to remain in the EU, the EPC in some respects still allows us to have some form of seat at the table and ensures we are still part of a union. The UK even suggested holding the second meeting of the EPC but Adamson said it was “put back in its box” and will hold the fourth meeting instead. Although the EPC gives some form of hope for the future relations between the UK and EU it can also be frustrating for those who wanted to remain in the EU because it can be seen as slightly hypocritical, the UK did not want anything to do with the EU but now finds itself as the potential foundation of the EPC – an element of the EU itself. But what cannot be ignored is that as Adamson said, “the EPC is a great way to keep the UK engaged in Europe”.
The future of the UK relationship with the EU
But what does this all mean for the future of the UK-EU relationship? Brussels are very aware that the UK re-entering the EU is very unlikely and Dr Shea emphasised that it is a question of making “pragmatic arrangements” between the EU and the UK if they want to continue any form of relationship. But what is very clear and something that Dr Shea highlighted is that the EU will not wait for the UK anymore, it sees the UK as turning inward and does not want to deal with any UK issues as well as their own. The UK is still having some form of influence in Brussels under the EPC and Adamson suggested in order for the UK to maintain its influence in Brussels it needs to abide by single market rules. After listening to this extremely important discussion on the UK and the EU it is very clear that despite Brexit it seems that the UK cannot completely divorce the EU, perhaps due to its resilience to crises or its benefits to the UK economy, one thing is for certain, the UK sees many different ways in which it can engage with the EU which allows it to some degree to bypass Brussels but not break away.