How to secure a friendly Brexit?

Thursday, 13th October 2016 12:15 to 2:15 pm (GMT+0200) Bruxelles, Belgium

Event Summary

Open Europe and the Martens Centre hosted a panel discussion amongst representatives from politics, business and trade associations on how to ensure a friendly Brexit. The event was chaired by Roland Freudenstein, Policy Director of the Martens Centre, and introduced by Pieter Cleppe, the head of Open Europe’s Brussels office.

Gunnar Hoekmark, a Swedish centre-right MEP, said that the UK and the EU should work together to solve common problems, arguing, “We can’t have a nasty divorce when we’ll be living in the same house. The UK is in Europe.” He added, “The security challenges for Europe will stay the same with or without Brexit and therefore we need a partnership.” He urged both parties to be constructive, saying that the EU should avoid “populist” temptations to punish the UK, and that saying plans to force companies to list their foreign workers were not reflective of the UK he admired.

Kai Büntemeyer, the CEO of a German manufacturer Kolbus which operates in the UK, agreed with Hoekmark that “It should be unacceptable for any politician in the 21th century to speak of punishing Britain… the prospect that the UK would be hurt more from a hard Brexit than European member states is no reason to pursue this.” He stressed the need for “the best possible deal… to preserve open trade in Europe,” warning, “a lot of investment in UK is on hold right now. Economic damage is already inflicted.”

Parisa Smith, the Director of EU affairs at the British Bankers’ Association, called for politicians to “keep cool heads and remain pragmatic.” She said that Brussels should “accept Brexit and try to deal with it.” She also said that UK-EU financial services markets were “interconnected” and a comprehensive deal should be a priority.

Open Europe’s Acting Director Stephen Booth suggested that the UK has a lot to offer on security and foreign policy cooperation, and that creative thinking across all policy areas would be the most likely route to securing a good trade deal. He highlighted that the UK has a “good integration story to tell,” and that the main motivation of the vote to leave was sovereignty rather than xenophobia. “The rest of the world is watching,” he said, “The UK is not the same as Switzerland or Norway, so the UK deal cannot be the same. Both the UK and EU Member States should act responsibly, thinking about what kind of long-term relationship they want.”

In summary, Freudenstein emphasised “the shared UK-EU interest to have a strategic long-term partnership in the future,” but closed by saying that this partnership “must be mutually beneficial.”

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