By Nicholas Ntalipis, Warwick European Society Talk Officer
On the 21th of January, in a room packed with people from all kinds of nationalities, academic backgrounds and political beliefs, Eurosoc hosted the Chief Political Commentator of the Financial Times, Robert Shrimsley, to discuss the latest developments of Brexit. Mr. Shrimsley has had a long career as a journalist, having been at the Financial Times for the last 22 years. In the past, he has also been chief political correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, where he happened to share an office with the current prime minister, Boris Johnson! During his talk, he pointed out a number of challenges as well as opportunities of Brexit for Britain and the EU.
Event Banner. By the European Society talk officer Natalia Tronina
On the side of the UK, it was pointed out that Brexit happens to be an entirely asymmetrical experience for the European continent. On the one hand, following the Brexit vote, Britain entered a prolonged period of political crisis, despite its history as a relatively stable democracy. On the other hand, Brexit is certainly not the most major topic of conversation for the other European nations, nor has it been a catalyst for disintegration as some people predicted. As a result, we see Britain having a weaker hand compared to the EU in the negotiations, lacking the negotiating power that Brexiteers possibly expected to have.
Another consequence of this pivotal point in modern British history is that people’s political attitudes largely depend on their stance on Brexit. Drawing an analogy with the cold war in the 60’s, Mr. Shrimsley explained that the direction of political opinion tends to be greatly influenced by where a person stands on the main debate of an era. Pro-American people in the 60’s/70’s were more likely to follow like-minded politicians as the Cold War was the most important element in the political agenda at the time. In this way, “the ripples of Brexit are likely to persist in voters’ opinions long after the specific issues of Brexit have died out”, as people may continue to support and trust politicians who stood on their side during the Brexit vote for many years in the future.
A number of other challenges were also discussed, including the effect of Brexit on Britain’s financial services, agriculture, trust in the political establishment, data privacy and defence. Regardless of the particular issue, a question of similar nature seems to beset British politicians: “to diverge from the EU’s trade and regulatory frameworks or not?” Brexiteers might find it appealing to freely set their country’s laws without the restrictive EU frameworks, but various scientists, multinationals, or even the country of Ireland may be hurt by a divergence from the widely used EU rules and protocols. At least, we can notice the mutual interest in returning relations to a more cordial space. One where good faith in each other’s intentions is restored and outcomes are not entirely dependent on long, formal negotiations.
In the end, it seems hard to tell whether Brexit has resulted in a permanent freeze or temporary hostility. According to Mr. Shrimsley, what Brexit has caused is a permanent tension. “A relationship between two neighbours who understand each other but are more than capable of getting on each other’s nerves; of trying to move that fence post another 7 inches into the other’s garden”. The EU and the UK have to learn to live with that tension.
A lively Q&A followed the talk, addressing a number of issues, like the opportunities of Brexit in terms of sovereign control and regulatory power through government intervention, the relationship with Russia, the Sue Gray report, the future of London as a financial centre and the effect of Brexit on poorer citizens.
As Eurosoc, we are really grateful to Mr. Shrimsley for visiting our university and sharing his views with us, as well as to all the attendees of the event, who kept the discussion interesting, informative and entertaining !