Brexit is unsurprisingly the theme of many a fringe event at Conservative Party Conference this year. The event officially billed as Brexit: understanding how others see it, was described by a delegate as a Remainer regret session (as he angrily walked out). Conservatives for Europe hosted Antoinette Sandbach MP; Detlef Seif, CDU MP of the German Bundestag; and Simon Nixon of the Wall Street Journal for a panel musing on things the Tories should bear in mind about how Britain is viewed as they negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU:
1) The EU has more important things to think about other than us
Brexit is the biggest political upheaval to happen in the UK for years – but, as Detlef Seif of the German CDU pointed out, other countries have their own issues to think about. Germany, for example, is focused on its own coalition building following last week’s election, and “doesn’t have time” for worrying about negotiating deals with the UK.
2) The realities of what the EU can deliver
When the UK doesn’t even know what it wants, Simon Nixon asked how the EU can be expected to deliver it? Seif added that a lot of the rhetoric coming from the UK is ‘empty phrases’, such as Theresa May’s insistence there will be no physical border in between Ireland and Northern Ireland, despite the UK leaving both the customs union and the single market, yet not outlining what they suggest as a workable alternative.
3) Stop telling the EU what to do
It was noted that, despite having voted to leave the EU, there is still a feeling that Britain retains its role as one of the dominant countries within it and seems to think it should still tell Europe how to behave. One panellist added there is a feeling amongst some in the EU that ‘if the UK is leaving, it should stop lecturing’, and that doing so was further damaging Britain’s brand on the continent (which, if it wants to negotiate, it should still care about).
In summary, having decided to leave the EU, Britain needs to come to terms with the implications that has on its importance to the countries that remain. While that may be too extreme, the panel served as a reminder about how easy it is to fall into a UK-centric mind-set with the negotiations and there would be a benefit to the UK in thinking about how those outside the country think about Brexit.