Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Defence, travel, science: how post-Brexit relations could warm further

It’s official. Relations between the EU and the UK have been reset. In an article for the Guardian, ambassadors and high commissioners of all 27 member states declared there had been a “regain in trust”.

After seven years of tension, mistrust and sometimes downright contempt, the outbreak of civility is no small thing. “The task ahead is therefore to build on this re-engagement and to develop further the ties between the EU and the UK,” the ambassadors said.

So what could be in store to further cement relations?

Defence and foreign policy

Rishi Sunak has already put to bed Liz Truss’s confusion over whether France was “friend or foe”, emerging from a meeting hailing “unprecedented cooperation” on issues such as the small boats crisis.

The war on Ukraine has led to the UK joining an EU-wide mobility programme to ease movement of troops and artillery across the continent. Expect closer relations on this front.

Financial regulation

The Windsor deal on trade arrangements for Northern Ireland has opened the door for progress on financial regulation.

A memorandum of understanding was signed two years ago to pave the way for a joint UK-EU regulatory forum to allow regulators on both sides of the Channel to resolve issues.

One of the main issues is a grace period for London’s financial market clearing houses to continue serving customers in the bloc. That period is expected to end in 2025 but there have been hints that an extension could suit both sides.

Youth mobility

Freedom of movement has gone, affecting business and tourism. But sources in the EU say there is appetite for a special programme of temporary visa-free work permits for 18- to 30-year-olds, similar to deals that France has with Canada, and the UK has with Australia.

The House of Lords European affairs committee recently called for the government to approach the EU “about the possibility of entering an ambitious reciprocal youth mobility partnership”.

One EU source said Downing Street would be “pushing at an open door” if it did so.

Professional qualifications

Before Brexit, professional qualifications such as degrees in architecture or accountancy acquired in any EU country were recognised across the bloc, allowing graduates to work in any of the 28 member states.

That is no longer the case. But there is a provision in the trade agreement for further discussion.

Joint food and animal health standards

A deal between the UK and the EU to operate equivalent sanitary and phytosanitary regulations would immediately reduce the number of checks required on goods coming into Great Britain from the EU and going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, where some EU laws are still observed even with the new deal on the protocol.

Equivalence was considered a barrier to a US trade deal but also anathema to hardline Brexiters as it would have meant the UK remaining a rule taker rather than rule maker. This could be revisited by a Labour government.

Science collaboration

Re-entry into the flagship €95bn Horizon Europe science research programme is being renegotiated. Despite some reservations expressed by the government, and a contingency option to go it alone, academics have repeatedly told the government that their preferred option is participation in the programme.

The UK agreed a deal to pay to remain an associate member of Horizon as part of the 2020 trade deal but it was subsequently locked out in a row over the Northern Ireland protocol not being implemented.

The door was thrown open for re-entry the moment the Windsor deal was struck. Negotiations on a financial discount for the lack of participation in the first two years of the seven-year research cycle recently restarted.

Associate participation should follow in the Copernicus space system, the EU’s Earth observation programme, and Euroatom, the cooperation agreement on safe and peaceful uses of nuclear energy that was also pencilled into the trade deal in 2020.

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