for a Shared Future
reBuilding Alliances & strategies
In the last year, we invited a range of influential people to explore areas of cooperation at risk from Brexit, populism & Trump’s Presidency and ways to shore up connectivity across spheres and sectors. We aimed to move past previous arguments to a more positive space in which British, European and American stakeholders can debate recommendations on cross-border cooperation.
- How to improve post-Brexit trade
- The meaning of Global Britain
- Staying connected at the city and regional level
- UK-Europe cooperation on culture, education, health and science
- Managing culture wars, tribalism and communications
- Crafting an effective transatlantic foreign and security policy
- The evolving role of EU, UK and US leadership in global affairs and great power competition.
- Liberal democracies versus authoritarianism
Post Brexit UK-EU relations
Most contributors agreed it is crucial to maintain existing channels and open new links on many levels to compensate for UK transition into a third country and loss of access to the Single Market, Customs Union and most EU funding programmes and Agencies.
“We stumbled into a list of things we know we don’t want and for which electoral support was assumed. But we need a positive agenda. The European Union will develop in a different way without the UK, and the UK is going to have to find ways to relate to it.”
“The sort of UK-EU relationship we want is one that keeps British access as far as possible to the Single Market for our supply chains and exports, to Europol and police co-operation, to education and research programmes, to technical agencies like air safety and food. But with the minimalist deal, those sorts of links are lost or at risk.”
Post-Brexit, we agreed that stronger links are needed at the level of government and policy makers; regions and cities; trade, industry and sectors; academia and think tanks; education, culture and civil society. The UK Government was urged by think-tanks to work twice as hard to maintain influence and information exchange. Trade and business were advised to stay aligned on EU rules in order to export to EU and maintain standards. Those in the education system could explore alternative bilateral 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 and could actually get worse. 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.
“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 two 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 – 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 – these areas are 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. The new AUKUS agreement suggests new synergies are being explored, as UK attempts to de-emphasise its European links.
“So far, the term Global Britain seems 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 risks no longer being as central as we thought we were. As time goes on, will the UK be able to provide a constructive role in discussions between US and Europe and other partners?”
“The real question is how much value does UK still have if we can no longer bring the EU with us on sanctions regimes or other foreign policy initiatives, as we 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 – though it risks undermining EU cohesion.”
“We need some sort of trilateral mechanism, 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 connected across the Channel.
“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
Extensive discussions were also held on America’s evolving role in global affairs. Notes of caution were raised around the premise ‘America is Back’ even with Biden’s welcome recommitment to multilateralism and old alliances. Participants referred to a “significant deficit of trust and co-operation” in the transatlantic relationship, further shaken by recent US unilateral actions in Afghanistan, and the AUKUS deal between Australia, US and UK. Allies needed to plough on and work together, however, given the many challenges ahead.
“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 this 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 2022/2024, we are at risk of losing our democracy. So Biden’s order of concerns, prioritising domestic policy, is exactly correct… not only pushing away working with Europe but pushing all foreign policy further back.”
“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.”
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 climate change, investment in technology and equitable economic recovery, signified by the slogan adopted by all three: Build Back Better.