18 March 2021 - 19 March 2021

Europe and the UK: building a new partnership after Brexit

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Terms of Reference

The first phase of Brexit is done.  The UK has left the European Union and a new treaty agreed by both sides is in place.  But the long-term consequences of Brexit are just beginning. 

Geopolitically, the major democracies of Europe and the UK will need to make common cause to uphold democracy against resurgent authoritarianism (including in some countries in the EU), subversion, terrorism and a potential nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Global challenges – from climate change to uncontrolled migration – threaten both the EU and the UK with an urgency to act. Everyone will be spending the next decade or more recovering from the impact of this pandemic and preparing for the next. 

The United States, meanwhile, will be switching, since January, from enthusiastic support for Brexit to solid support for multilateral institutions, but the US’ long-term direction remains to be reasserted and solidified. It is clear though that the US will continue to look to allies to make common cause in its increasingly tense geopolitical confrontation with China.

The UK will need to decide in the coming months, years and decades ahead how far it is in its interests to diverge from norms set by the EU across a range of fields and the EU will have to decide to what standards it will hold the UK in complying with those norms, and what penalties it will seek to impose for divergence. 

Within the EU, the call for ‘strategic autonomy’ will need to be progressively defined: where will the EU minus the UK land on the spectrum between state-sponsored capitalism and unfettered markets led by the private sector? To what extent will the EU develop its own coordinated defence and foreign policy capabilities in parallel to NATO?

This Ditchley conference will explore the kinds of new relationships the UK and the EU and European states individually should aim to build to further common interests, and what risks they will need to manage.

Economic competition and cooperation

The new trade agreement allows for tariff-free trade between the EU and the UK but introduces new non-tariff third country procedures for imports and exports and is largely silent on services. The UK does not face automatic penalties for divergence from the level playing field insisted on by the EU but the prospect of a cost for even a managed divergence is clear. How can the UK and European states manage divergence in the best interests of both sides? Is the UK likely to want to diverge much and in what fields? How will industrial policy develop on both sides of the channel?

What are the prospects for cooperation on science, technology and innovation between the UK and European counterparts? To what extent will the City of London retain its role as the premier financial centre in Europe (including capital markets, foreign exchange and listing of companies) and what are the implications for the UK and for the EU and European states? How important and likely is ‘equivalence’?

What are the prospects for trade agreements with third parties that bring the UK and the EU back together in a common vision for global growth, for example with the United States and Transatlantic partners or with China? How can the UK and the EU best cooperate as well as compete on the economic opportunity and challenge of China?

Defending democracy and diplomatic, defence and security cooperation

How can the UK and European states best cooperate to support the US in upholding essential western and democratic interests against authoritarian challenge? The Anglo-Saxon countries, with a common law heritage, and Europe have always offered complementary approaches to defending the rule of law, democracy, freedoms and human rights: how can the combined soft power of the English-speaking world and continental democracies be strengthened through diplomacy, law, education, the media and entertainment?

Science and technological innovation, cyber power and mastery of data are set to form the core of modern defence: how can the UK and the EU, and other partners, work together to develop powerful joint capabilities? How can strategic nuclear and more traditional defence cooperation be sustained? How can we adapt and strengthen NATO? How do we cooperate in the new space race, for example building complementary capabilities to Galileo?

Western societies are likely to face innovative hybrid threats below the threshold of war. How can the UK and the EU support each in other in the face of information warfare and the attempted manipulation of democratic processes?

Shared regional and global challenges

Thus far, the response to the pandemic has done more to separate the UK and the EU, rather than to bring us together. How can we reverse this, delivering health security across the continent and contributing together to health security globally?

The UK and the EU are both committed to playing a leading role in combatting climate change, with the UK and Italy jointly leading on COP26. How can the UK and the EU work together with other partners to make COP 26 a turning point? How can we build effective development cooperation, in Africa in particular, to grow local economies, to help improve security and to head off the prospects of mass uncontrolled migration northwards in response to climate change and other pressures?

Immigration – and fears of immigration – alongside other factors play into questions of identity and calls for local control by ‘people like us’. How can arguably much-needed immigration be handled cooperatively, and with humanity, by the UK and Europe? 

Unravelling the complex map of European nation states is opposed by all central governments in Europe and would bring untold risks. How can empowerment of regions and local communities be combined with territorial stability? Should the EU be a neutral bystander on the question of the unity of the United Kingdom or an advocate for the status quo and stability, lest a dissolution of the United Kingdom catalyse separatist movements in Europe?