BREXIT: A method to build a new relationship

...between the United Kingdom and the European Union

Column by Francesco Grillo for the Italian newspapers Il Messaggero, Il Gazzettino del Nord-Est and Il Mattino.

BREXIT 

What makes William Shakespeare’s art unique is that he managed to build plots – with 39 gloomy tragedies and brilliant comedies – leading readers into wonderful worlds, through misunderstandings and frame-ups. Misunderstandings and frame-ups that, as in the parable of King Lear, guided the United Kingdom into a crisis that is difficult to escape. According to some, Brexit can lead towards the final decay of what was once the greatest Empire in history. And yet, it is useful for both the British and the Europeans - an island and a continent bound by a contradictory yet strong connection – to build a new and different relationship.

A decrease of 0.6% - this is the forecast of the evolution of UK’s gross domestic product for 2023 and it was announced by the International Monetary Fund on the exact day of Brexit’s third anniversary.

The United Kingdom is the only economy – amongst the first twenty in the world – that is going to experience a real economic recession in 2023, even more than Russia itself. A hard blow that might be the prelude to even worse trouble: as anticipated right after the famous referendum in June 2016, Brexit reinforced the Scottish National Party’s intentions to ask for a new referendum – aimed at leaving the UK and eventually entering the EU. What used to be the center of the world could become part of its outskirts. This would bring immense satisfaction to those who, in the end, always envied the UK’s ability to exercise a cultural hegemony that is only equal to that of the US.

Since the UK entered the European Communities in 1973, several polls have been published (mainly by research institutes such as YOUGOV and IPSOS) where each month British citizens were asked the same question they were asked to answer in 2016: would you vote against or in favor of your country’s membership of the European Union? As the graph accompanying this article shows, public opinion in the UK has always been almost split in half. Today, those who would remain in the EU are the majority (48%), whereas those who still support Brexit are 40%.

PPT UK eng

 

However, a growing number of British voters is convinced that the problem is not about having left the EU, it is rather about the predictable consequences of that choice (e.g. in the healthcare system or the airports, left without European workers). As a matter of fact, a new party (Reform UK) has been gradually growing, stealing voters from the conservatives who are currently governing the UK and accusing them of having betrayed Brexit. A similar opinion is diffused among many “experts”: those who study digital regulations are often convinced, for instance, that the UK might gain a profitable position since it is not subjected to EU bureaucracy anymore – a normative framework that is way more capable of attracting investments.

Thus, regret is growing but it would be unrealistic to believe that the UK will come back to the EU soon.

Moreover, none of the Heads of State is enthusiastic about hugging the British again. So, an effort of pragmatism and creativity is very much needed to build a new relationship, which would be useful both North of Dover and South of Calais. References to Norway – sharing with the EU an economic area where people, goods and capitals can move freely – or to Turkey – that only shares a customs union with Brussels, with the exception of farm products – are not enough. The path to follow must surely be that of the free movement of goods, which is very much needed by both Italian wine producers and Jaguar’s managers. What is necessary is also the free movement of people, with selectively granted work permits, as requested by the voting British, that would however be extended to many job positions demanded by UK citizens themselves when they need nurses.

In order to go back to capitals mobility, we need to start from a more complex negotiation on cooperation, which could be built upon the role of the European Banking Authority (EBA), based in London until 2019. If the common sense of – gradually and flexibly - building a larger single market prevailed, the issue of Northern Island (which remained unsolved) would be removed. Then, continuing to build a full integration of the university and research system, which the Universities of Bologna and Oxford are requesting, would follow immediately and naturally. Some relationships have not been broken by Brexit after all: the astronauts of the European Space Agency are also British, and the progress made by the CERN particles accelerators, financed by London itself, has been inspired by the work of the Nobel prize Higgs.

Building a new relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union also means recognizing our mutual value. It is true that, with the UK in the Union, it would have been harder to get the Next Generation EU approved. But it also true that, perhaps, British pragmatism would have helped us preventing the inflexibility that is currently weakening our recovery process. In the end, the future of the European Union will be, even more than today, that of being a platform to build partnerships on specific objectives among variable groups of countries. Imagining a new relationship with our uncomfortable but nice neighbors is one of the challenges that the EU must win.

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