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Centre for Geopolitics

Providing historically-grounded solutions to enduring geopolitical problems

On Thursday 25 June, the Centre for Geopolitics organized a British-German discussion on Brexit in the light of the Covid-19 crisis. Chaired by Bridget Kendall, Master of Peterhouse (Cambridge) and former BBC Diplomatic Correspondent, the event focused on how the conversation about Brexit and the attempts to forge a future relationship between Britain and the EU has developed and changed due to the COVID-19 crisis.

From Germany, two MPs joined the event. Dr Franziska Brantner, a German Parliament deputy for the Green Party and Member of the Bundestag Committee on European Affairs, stated her disappointment that Covid-19 crisis seemed to have made a No-Deal scenario more and not less likely. She was outspoken in her criticism of the Johnson government in the UK, which she argued was ignoring the Political Declaration it had itself negotiated with the EU. She also criticized the British government for so far being unwilling to include questions relating to security cooperation in talks with Brussels over the future relationship. Siemtje Moeller, German Parliament Deputy for the SPD and Member of the Defense Committee of the Bundestag, echoed that pessimistic outlook on the Brexit negotiations and the stance of the British government. She suggested that COVID-19 had only made EU-UK talks more complicated, since all governments involved now had to prioritize dealing with the pandemic and its fallout over engaging with the Brexit question.

Bob Seely, Conservative MP and Member of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, felt that his German counterparts still did not accept the outcome of the Brexit referendum. He argued that a continued European insistence on a negative rhetorical point that ‘Britain will get hurt more by No-Deal than the EU’ was counterproductive and stood in the way of compromise; and that just, post-Brexit, as Britain would profit from a thriving EU, so the EU could profit from a thriving Britain. Prof Christopher Hill, Emeritus Professor of International Relations in POLIS (Cambridge), cautioned against playing out old battles when it came to sensibilities on both sides about Brexit, warning that the deeper issues which were making it hard to find an agreement between Brussels and London were as much emotional as they were material; for example, the issue of sovereignty which was so crucial for the Brexiteers with their slogan of ‘Take back control’, was mirrored in the EU’s insistence of the integrity of the common market. Compromise, he said, could only be found by addressing this emotional dimension as well.

The lively discussion showed that – four years after the Brexit referendum –  political thinking among some European and some British politicians still seems to follow quite different logics. Nonetheless when it came to discussing the longer term geopolitical challenges which had been intensified by the Covid-19 crisis, there was much more consensus. All three MPS, Mr Seely from the UK and Dr Brantner and Mrs Moeller from Germany, were swift to discover they shared the view that both Britain and the EU states would have to work harder to address Russia’s more assertive attitude in recent years and to acknowledge the security risks surrounding Chinese involvement in the introduction of 5G. All sides agreed that Europe and Britain had lacked strategic thinking on these challenges, and that Berlin and London should work harder, and work together, to remedy this shortcoming. There was general agreement that it would be good to explore further practical possibilities to do this.

The video of the event can be found here

Report by Philipp Hirsch, Ax:son Johnson Research Assistant in Applied History, Centre for Geopolitics