Ursula von der Leyen says young people give her confidence
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Dr Eoin Drea suggested the EU’s obsession with pinning all the blame on Britain, and consequently dishing out punishment, misses the point – and will come back to bite eventually. And he predicted despite a withering assessment by French European Minister Clement Beaune that the UK would end up a “vassal” of the US, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s vision of an “Anglosphere” was already yielding benefits – not least the trilateral Aukus deal with Australia and the United States.
Dr Drea, a senior research officer at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, offered his frank assessment during an op-ed written for Politico.
He said: “|It remains remarkable that for such a seismic event, Brexit continues to be most noticeable by its absence in the formulation of future European Union strategy.”
From the Conference on the Future of Europe to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s recent state of the union address, there had been few references either to Britain or the decision to quit the bloc, Dr Drea pointed out.
He added: “This in itself is a remarkable achievement given Britain’s unique role in the EU landscape.
“It is almost as if – as in many a Parisian’s dreams – Britain never really existed at all.”
With the first anniversary of the end of the transition period round the corner, it is “clear that the EU has learned every wrong lesson from the divorce”, Dr Drea said.
He explained: “Riled by the deliberately provocative actions of successive British governments since 2016, the EU has been unable to separate the UK’s bark from its bite – and the danger this poses is swiftly growing.”
He cited as an example what he called the bloc’s policy of discussing Britain based on a strategy of “moving past Brexit”.
He warned: “But while ‘moving past Brexit’ may make the EU feel better about being jilted by one of its biggest members, it is a woefully short-sighted approach to understanding Brexit’s potential consequences for its own long-term development.
“No real attempt has been made to place the UK’s engagement in Europe in the specific context of the European integration process.
“Brexit was never just a wholly British affair. It was also shaped by the strategic choices made in Brussels over several decades.”
Additionally, Brussels was making a dangerous miscalculation when it came to Britain’s place in the world, Dr Drea stressed.
He said: “Brussels is continuing to underestimate the UK’s strategic importance and refusing to acknowledge – or even contemplate – the political risks of an even mildly successful Britain.
“The EU’s focus on the grinding technical details of ‘protecting’ the single market – due to Britain’s annoying but highly effective diversionary focus on Northern Ireland – has resulted in Brussels misjudging the medium-term risks of Britain as a strategic competitor. But that risk is real.”
The next few years would result in Britain’s internal politics stabilising and a refocusing on key areas including finance, education, security and defence, Fintech and AI.
Dr Drea said: “And for all the talk of the economic costs of Brexit and COVID-19, Britain’s economic outlook in terms of public debt, economic growth and unemployment remain considerably better than most other major European economies, with the exception of Germany.
“Britain isn’t Italy, no matter how much the EU might wish it so.
“Britain’s return to growth will be complemented by London doubling down on its strategic partnerships with the United States and the other English-speaking economies of the ‘Anglosphere’.”
Despite widespread cynicism among eurocrats, the strategic importance of the UK’s relationship with the US had been masked by Brussels’s perceptions of British weakness, Dr Drea argued.
He added: “For Westminster, it is irrelevant whether Britain is viewed as Washington’s most important partner – London’s preferred choice – or as a “vassal” of the US, in the words of Clement Beaune, France’s minister of state for European affairs.
“Even subjugation brings the benefits of proximity, relevance and inclusion in Washington’s wider geopolitical strategies.
“These are benefits lacking in other EU member countries’ relationships with the Anglosphere, as evidenced by the recent controversy over Australian submarines and the AUKUS defence pact.”
It was therefore clear the bloc needed to adopt a new strategy.
Dr Drea explained: “It’s clear that the EU needs to adopt a new strategy toward Britain. All the hard talk in Schuman coffee shops in Brussels of ‘punishing’ or ‘going hard’ on Britain if the Northern Ireland Protocol’s Article 16 is invoked is ridiculous.
“Europe missed its chance to impose its economic power on Westminster during the Brexit negotiations.”
Referring to the ongoing wrangle over the aforementioned Article 16, which Lord Frost has on several occasions suggested could be triggered, Dr Drea said: “Brussels should shrug off British threats with a smile, talk the language of strategic partnership through gritted teeth and understand that Brexit doesn’t start and end with the Irish border and angry French fishermen.
“There’s a much bigger game at play. Because Britain won’t always be a political disaster. Soon it will be a serious economic threat.“
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