As I head through the channel tunnel for probably the last time before the end of March, what do I take from talking to French and Belgian officials and academics?



First and foremost, the fun and games in the UK around ratification has produced a much more settled view elsewhere: assume that no-deal is going to happen and act accordingly.

French customs officials last week were telling everyone within earshot that there is no deal until there is a deal signed and sealed, so preparation is essential.

Certainly, every cubic centimetre of storage is full on the EU side of the Channel too, as all and sundry stockpile, just in case, while exporters to the UK are trying to work out what work-arounds to the Dover-Calais bottleneck are possible.

The general air of incredulity about Brexit that has pervaded the EU27 since the 2016 EU referendum continues, but it has not meant that actions have not been taken or that there is a complacency.

It was also striking that there was a good level of understanding of the constraints that the UK government is operating under, even if some of the norms of PR-elected, coalition government systems do occasionally get carried across.

This said, there is also a view that I heard a few times that the EU has already given ground in the Article 50 process (e.g. on the temporary customs arrangement element of the backstop) and that has not really been appreciated by the UK (which I think is a fair observation).

The last thought I take is that no-one seems to be looking forward to the UK’s withdrawal, in any form. It disrupts trade, introduces uncertainty and generally speaks to a future where the UK isn’t as close (socially as well as politically or economically).

Yes, there are opportunities (and they will be taken), but they are more than outweighed by the costs and risks.

In sum, there will always be a UK-EU relationship, but no one seems to think it will be an improvement on what came before.🔷




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(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article, with the author’s consent, with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.)


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THE AUTHOR

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Reader in Politics at the University of Surrey. Deputy Director of the ESRC's 'UK in a Changing Europe' programme.

Guildford, UK.Articles in PMP MagazineWebsite