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The Brief – Brexit revisited, or not

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Brexit is back – or at least debates about relations between London and Brussels are.

Labour leader Keir Starmer, who looks increasingly likely to be prime minister after a general election at an unknown date in 2024, has started a diplomatic tour. Meetings with Europol in The Hague this week will be followed by Canada and then Paris next week, for an audience with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Starmer said this week his government would seek a deal on migrant returns and, potentially, quotas with the EU.

That prompted an entirely predictable response from Rishi Sunak’s Tory government that this would mean 100,000 more migrants arriving in the UK from the EU – a reminder that intelligent and honest debate about migration is as elusive on the other side of the Channel.

An EU-UK agreement on membership of the EU’s border agency Frontex would make plenty of sense. So, too, would UK participation should the EU finalise its own deal on migration quotas, with member states that refuse to take part paying EUR20,000 per migrant.

Once outside the bloc, UK ministers have found that they have little leverage when working with France and other EU states to prevent small boats carrying migrants and asylum seekers from crossing the Channel.

It is assumed by many that a Labour government, particularly if Labour does not have an overall majority and relies on support from the traditionally pro-EU Liberal Democrat support, would quickly move quickly to repair and rebuild relations with the EU.

Plenty of Labour supporters will want the UK to rejoin the single market – at the very least – within a couple of years, though not necessarily the EU itself.

Opinion polls suggest that such an approach would be popular. Surveys show that a consistent 60-40% majority among UK voters view Brexit as a mistake.

Yet a Starmer government’s room for manoeuvre would, in practice, be very narrow. After more than a decade in opposition and faced with crumbling (literally) schools and hospitals, domestic policy will be the priority.

Meanwhile, having been so badly burnt by its promise of a second referendum ahead of the 2019 election, Labour may try to tinker around the edges of EU-UK relations but won’t attempt more than that.

Besides, after the dog days of negotiating the Withdrawal Agreement and Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), followed this year by months of painfully slow haggling over UK membership of the Horizon Europe research programme, there is no evidence that the European Commission wants to spend more time discussing trade terms with London.

EU officials regard the end-2025 review date for the TCA as a technical requirement but not an opportunity to re-open it.

Like it or not, the basis of the post-Brexit settlement is here to stay.

The Roundup

The European Commission’s monitoring of Bulgaria and Romania under the so-called “Cooperation and Verification Mechanism” (CVM) officially ended after 16-and-a-half years on Friday, with much of the work in the meantime taken over by the annual Rule of Law cycle covering all member states.

Poland’s foreign ministry said on Friday it had fired the head of its legal service and cancelled all its contracts for outsourcing visa applications amid a growing scandal over migration a month ahead of elections.

The European Union should ensure its plans to impose 20% to 35% tariffs on imports of high-carbon goods like steel, iron ore, and cement comply with World Trade Organisation rules, China said on Thursday, and not overstep agreed global green trade policies.

The European Parliament approved plans to secure the EU its own supply of critical raw materials on Thursday, as Brussels seeks to reduce its dependence on China for key minerals needed for green and digital technologies.

Paris will incorporate EU climate targets in its upcoming environmental and energy planning laws, Energy Minister Agn?s Pannier-Runacher’s entourage said this week, playing down delays in submitting France’s updated National Energy and Climate Plan to Brussels.

The Human Brain Project (HBP), one of the largest ever EU-supported research initiatives, has taken significant steps in neuroscience by creating an atlas of the human brain to benefit developments within medicine and technology.

Health warnings on alcohol should be made mandatory across the European Union, according to a recent report by the European Policy Centre, a think tank that praised the European Commission for giving the green light to Ireland’s plans in this direction.

Europe still has a long road ahead in its fight against HIV, according to a new report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which identifies key targets such as prevention, testing, and ending discrimination.

Last but least, don’t miss the latest Tech Brief and the Agrifood Brief for a roundup of weekly policy news.

Look out for…

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers speech on European perspectives at Federal Delegates’ meeting of CDU’s Women’s Union on Saturday.
Von der Leyen participates in trilateral meeting between EU, UN, and African Union Commission in New York on Sunday.
General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, Sunday-Thursday.
Agriculture and Fisheries Council on Monday.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald/Alice Taylor]



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