for a Shared Future
Building Alliances & strategies
Since 2020, we have invited a range of influential people to explore ways to shore up vital connectivity amid threats to cooperation from political extremism and nationalism, polarising communications, outside interference and economic pressures. We aim to move past previous frictions and create a positive space in which British, European and American stakeholders and other key partners can debate recommendations on urgent cross-border issues like climate change, conflict, geopolitical competition, international trade and access to resources. Our mission has only got more urgent as challenges multiply, requiring ever broader and deeper global alliances.
Post Brexit UK-EU relations
UK-EU relations achieved a welcome boost in early 2023 with the “Windsor Framework” agreement which resolved disagreements over the Northern Ireland Protocol and unblocked cooperation on other fronts. In our roundtables, many UK businesses praised the pragmatism and political will on both sides and were looking forward to next steps.
“The Windsor Framework is a very good thing from a business perspective, as we needed certainty and new arrangements on the movement of goods, and to reopen contacts with the Commission and MEPs which had been stymied. The UK now needs to plug into EU discussions on energy, climate change, resources and technology and cooperate better on aviation security, agriculture, and a host of other areas.”
“The Windsor Framework is great news, but certain actions could still undermine parts of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), for example on migration.”
“Deregulation through the UK’s Retained EU Law Bill means the risk of divergence is still real including in the energy market. This will have a direct impact on citizens. We need to stay as closely aligned as possible.”
“Having different regulations to the EU is disadvantageous to UK business. Vast sums will be invested in new technology. If regulations are different, producers will have to develop 2 different types of standards for the same product. We don’t have enough resources or money. Many industries previously saw the UK as a great place to do business. If regulations differ, the UK will not be competitive any more and businesses may move out.”
“There are important elections in 2024 in the EU and UK which will occupy people’s time, and bring a host of new characters to the political arena. There is space now to make some changes if these can be done rapidly.”
“In the short term, it important for UK stakeholders to set the agenda for the TCA mechanisms and the 2025 Review. Rewriting the TCA is unrealistic so the second leg has to be creative.”
“There is still a lot of uncertainty regarding the situation for temporary workers in the UK and mutual recognition of qualifications. This involves negotiations with Brussels as well as capitals and is not simple.”
“New border checks will start on October 31 for foodstuff going from EU to UK. These are necessary for health reasons but will add further obstacles.”
“I do hear some regret among Europeans that they have lost access to financial services in London. There is a small mention in the TCA. But who is going to push the regulators? What is the driving force behind solving this together and finding alignment? There is no mandate for that yet.”
“Rejoining Erasmus should absolutely be a priority. There is a big practical challenge on getting mobility agreements with 27 countries. Still, we need to encourage students to have an international outlook. Getting advice and clarity on the rules will reduce the uncertainty.”
“Leaving Horizon Europe is a disaster. It is not only about top UK universities missing out on research with EU institutions, it’s about all the affected relationships. We need to keep these links.”
“We should not forget about the creative sector because they are affected by issues of mobility and suffered from Brexit. They still cooperate and work across the rest of Europe. Leaving the Creative Europe programme had a massive impact on the sector in terms of loss of funding.”
“We started looking for solutions for our UK company so we went to the Belgian government and they actually had a way to help us. It was easier to trade with the EU through Belgium. The available solutions show that EU is not shutting out the UK.”
In terms of the UK domestic landscape, some noted a desire by politicians to avoid raising the issue of Europe after a period of political turbulence and culture wars.
“The UK political context is complicated – the public seems to be shifting its opinion faster than the politicians – 60% now say that Brexit was a mistake and this has been the trend for some time. However, none of the three main political parties really want to talk about the problems of Brexit. But they really need to so we can improve the situation.”
“In 20-30 years, the EU Constitution will have evolved to be something completely different. We will have to consider which things we want to participate in.”
“I’m not sure when UK will rejoin EU or in how many pieces. Northern Ireland could be back within 10 years, Scotland within 20. Economic interests always set the stage and emotions determine the script. Brexit has made a breakup of the UK more likely.”
“Even if the UK wanted to rejoin the EU, some Members might not be so keen in the short term. UK was always a bit half-hearted especially in the last years of our membership. Some people were happy to see us go and now just want implementation of the deals as agreed. We’ll need to be creative in order to rebuild the relationship.”
“Low hanging fruit for UK-EU cooperation include foreign policy, security and defence. The immediate threats of Russian aggression and the Ukraine war as well as deeper European engagement in the Indo-Pacific, has brought Britain closer to the EU and European states and highlighted our common interests across the whole continent.”
We debated the need for stronger links at the level of government and policy makers, regions and cities, trade and sectors, academia and think tanks, education, culture and civil society. The UK Government and civil service was urged to work twice as hard to maintain influence and information exchange. Trade and business were advised to stay aligned on EU rules and standards and lobby hard for their interests. Those in the education system could explore youth exchanges to replace Erasmus; professional or trade sectors could link up through pan-European umbrella associations; cities and regions could explore more twinning activities and engage on pan-European projects and networks like Eurocities.
“Cooperation is already a lot more difficult than it was. The UK has got to be agile and smart, using all its many networks and putting in a lot of effort to learn and engage.”
“The UK can no longer rely on votes and vetoes in the EU institutions. Many formal avenues for influence in overseas missions have also narrowed. So the UK Government will have to be far more active in informal networks, cultivating think tanks and investing in relationships.”
“Britain must decide its top priorities in Europe, learn from other third countries and understand better how Brussels works. The UK Government should double down on roles in institutions like Council of Europe, G7, UN Security Council, NATO and OSCE. There is evidence it is already doing so.”
“UK civil society, sectors and politicians must remain active in networks like the EU Trade Union Confederation, BusinessEurope, European law societies, professional associations, NGOs and think tanks”.
In terms of British culture, the lack of a “European project” in the UK national story was singled out as a drawback in encouraging appreciation of a common future. Some felt it would be up to the next generation to push for UK-Europe closeness, through areas of common concern like climate change or racism. More national debate on our shared history and commonality was needed.
“The notion of the European project is incomprehensible to UK voters. The debate about how the UK relates to Europe has not been had properly since 1945, not even in the last years. Conversely, the UK has got to understand the massive investments our neighbours have made in the EU project – culturally, politically and economically.”
“The Franco-German dialogue after World War II was a great initiative helping to stabilise Europe and bring the 2 countries closer on every level. Perhaps we can learn from that model to help the UK population develop a sense of commonality with Europe and not drift away.”
On security and justice, concern was expressed at the lack of structured cooperation and reduced access to instruments, impacting the UK’s ability to combat crime and keep people safe. The UK-EU Trade & Cooperation Agreement (TCA) offered some measure of cooperation though ad-hoc – with more arrangements to be worked out.
“Security and justice were the Cinderella of the UK-EU negotiations – totally ignored. Everyone talked only about trade. But the impact of Brexit on security is things will be slower, more resource intensive and as a result, citizens could be less safe.”
On foreign policy, contributors questioned the meaning of ‘Global Britain’ and what Britain was offering to its allies in terms of policy, influence and resources – areas currently being tested as international events play out. A need was expressed for a common UK-EU-US agenda and trilateral cooperation mechanism to crystallize priorities. Others called for other configurations.
“So far, the term Global Britain seemed like just a slogan that harkens back to the days of Empire but without clarity as to what that means in today’s world.”
“UK is no longer as central as we thought we were. As time goes on, the UK will need to show it is able to provide a constructive role in discussions between US and Europe and other partners. The Ukraine conflict has been an opportunity for UK to do this.”
“The real question is how much value the UK still has if we can no longer bring the EU with us on sanctions regimes or other foreign policy initiatives as we sometimes used to do. The UK could still be a significant global player, but we’re going to have to work a lot harder. We’ll have to “pay to play” to be at the table.”
“In Germany, we already miss Great Britain a lot because it was a partner for us in very crucial political areas – not just trade but also defence and foreign policy, especially dealing with Russia.”
“We are still at risk from Russian interference. Russia’s dearest wish would be the complete collapse of the EU, because that would return to an era when they could play power politics with European powers, trying to set off one against another…you can see it happening now.”
“The E3 format of UK, France and Germany co-ordination has received more significance post-Brexit as an alternative way for the UK to remain anchored in European foreign policy debates .”
“We need more trilateral mechanisms, to enable UK, EU, US co-operation on Middle East, sanctions, Russia, China.”
“Green politics makes absolutely no sense except as global politics. People know that with the environment – species loss or climate change – we need cooperation.”
Participants all called for the “next generation” to be empowered and stay connected.
“It’s critical we find ways of bringing young parliamentarians together because there’s a whole new crop of British MPs and aspiring politicians who won’t have any friends or contacts in the EU, so networks are absolutely vital – like bilateral young leaders’ programmes that exist between Britain and France.”
“In 10 or 15 years when the next generation come towards the levers of power, we’re going to see a very different British approach to Europe, and Europe will have changed as well. On that timescale, I’m more optimistic. But we’re in for a very rough ride over the next 10 years.”
America’s Leadership Role
The topic of America’s global leadership is prevalent amid systemic challenge from China and Russia against perceived Western hegemony. Transatlantic cooperation has accelerated since Biden’s election due to Russian aggression, the pandemic and disruption to globalisation and supply of resources. His administration has reinstated the US as prime mover in areas of strategic importance for Western allies by rejoining the Paris agreement on climate change and net-zero goals, underwriting European security and leading in NATO; cooperating on joint regulations in AI, technology and security resilience.
The US, UK and EU hold common ground on fundamental positions, despite differences, and need to strengthen alignment as global competition threatens resources, globalisation and overall stability. Upcoming elections in 2024 in the UK, US and EU will affect relations as politics shifts further to the right amid national insecurities and ongoing populist trends.
“Many European capitals see Biden as a brief respite until a President Pence or Trump 2.0 in 2024 which creates lingering doubts about US commitment to the US-EU relationship, as well as the rules-based international system and European security. The concept of European strategic autonomy remains relevant.”
“The US is in very deep trouble at home. If the Republicans win in 2024, we are at risk of losing our democracy. So Biden’s order of concerns, prioritising domestic policy, is exactly correct. Still, there are multiple global problems that can’t be ignored and need US attention and leadership.”
” Russia’s war and its global repercussions has brought the EU and US closer together. But while there is bipartisan US support for Ukraine, a Republican win in the White House could alter the level of commitment to Ukraine and European security overall.”
“From both a European and US perspective, China is the biggest longer-term challenge. It’s about how we equip our own industries to compete in the key tech areas of the 21st century. But it’s also about engaging China as an indispensable player, if not partner, in the key global challenges we face, whether climate action, or debt management in the least developed countries or global health challenges.”
“Transatlantic unity over Ukraine and Russia is important as a huge deterrent. We hope China is taking the right lessons from this.”
“What’s important is the focus on transatlantic vulnerabilities – and that has been a transformation in our approach. It’s incredibly important for Europe, NATO, EU, US, to look at critical infrastructure and how we identify and mitigate those vulnerabilities. That’s really where the conversation is.”
“In terms of Brexit, UK-EU posturing is causing problems for the Biden administration. They don’t want to know who is the best pupil in the class, they want each leg of the three-legged stool to work in harmony.”
“The role of the UK is very important in creating a European and transatlantic united front as we roll out restrictive measures and sanctions against Russia and others, or else it will create a vulnerability undercutting our efficacy. The UK and its European partners are aligned on so many things so it’s important not to perpetuate the messy and acrimonious divorce.”
All in all, participants agreed there was a rocky road ahead, as the era of great power competition and resurgent nationalism redefines international relations and doctrines of interventionism, conflict resolution and the meaning of democracy.
A cause for optimism in US-UK-EU relations is the shared commitment to global priorities such as thwarting Russian aggression, responding to Chinese competition, tackling climate change, investing in responsible technology and pushing for global economic recovery and multilateral reforms.