Brexit perspectives

Friday, 7 December 2018

The first in a series of blogs looking at Brexit from different points of view across the industry

By Kathy Roussel, Head of AHDB Brussels Office

As we are approaching the end of the year, Christmas is all around in Brussels. And so is Brexit.

What was supposed to be the easiest part of the Brexit negotiations, i.e. the Withdrawal agreement defining the legal terms of the divorce proceedings, turned out to be more complicated to negotiate than expected. This last semester was full of desperate calls for clarity and speculations on whether or not a deal could be reached between the EU and the UK. Brussels observers were getting increasingly pessimistic with each passing day.

The tension peaked with an unfortunate exchange of animosity between the EU and the UK - Donald Tusk's Instagram post on the cake without a cherry was perceived by the UK public as disrespectful whilst Jeremy Hunt's comparison of EU to USSR seriously offended several EU key representatives. Brexit definitely put an end to a shared sense of humour, it appears. This did not, however, prevent the negotiating teams from keeping on working together to reach a technical deal.

A couple of days before the November special summit, no one dared to openly bet on an endorsement of the withdrawal agreement. When it was finally approved by the Council, there was no enthusiasm or triumphalism, only sadness at the Brexit decision and the same old lines around the need to stay close partners. All eyes are now on the 11 December when the British Parliament will decide whether it can endorse the agreement or not.

Consequences of this decision will be immediate as a no deal would mean no transition period: In such case, there will be only three months left (instead of 21 months and possibly up to 45, as the transition period can be renewed once) to prepare for the practical consequences of Brexit.

Although the UK's closest neighbours are doing their best to prepare for the worst at Government level (recruitment of customs agents, building up of new border inspection posts and so on) it appears that confusion still reigns at business level. Very few businesses are prepared to make dramatic changes to their business model without the guarantee that it is an absolute necessity.

Signing off the Withdrawal agreement was only the first step. Indeed, the political declaration about the future trading relationship between the EU and the UK that was agreed is only aspirational, not legally binding on either party. Still, negotiators failed to include in the text their intention to make any future trading relationship as frictionless as possible. How ambitious the trade agreement will actually be remains to be seen but one thing is certain - there is still plenty to negotiate in the coming years. In the meantime, we need to take full advantage of the EU whilst we still can, use the expertise of EU representatives worldwide and tap into the potential of EU high level missions to secure new contacts with importers in third countries that will be key for our future as a global trading nation. 

The good news is that our EU partners are eager to maintain a close relationship with the UK, as demonstrated by the success of the two Agri Brexit events the AHDB Brussels office organised jointly with seven other farming organisations. Amid the continuing political tensions, it is important that the AHDB Brussels office engage more, not less, with our European partners. Common challenges, such as sustainability and innovation, will remain the same. They definitely request maintaining a close partnership based on trust and mutual respect. At the same time, strengthening our links with non-EU countries will enable us to gain practical knowledge on what it is like to be a third country.

Explore our Brexit pages for all our news, analysis and tools, including the Brexit Impact Calculator, which allows you to look at the potential impact of the UK's withdrawal from the EU could have on your farm business.

Next time, Brexit perspectives will look at how businesses are gearing up across the Farm Excellence network