UK relations with the European Union have “still not settled into a coherent and consistent pattern”, more than six-and-a-half years after the Brexit referendum, a new report concludes.
However, the report by the UK in a Changing Europe (UKICE) think-tank, published today, also warns any changes to the relationship “are likely to be slow and incremental”.
UKICE, based at King’s College London, says: “The report shows that, while Brexit has exerted a significant economic impact, there appears to be little political space on either side of the Channel for a major reconsideration of the relationship or a renegotiation of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement in the short term.”
It notes that its report “Where Next? The future of the UK-EU relationship” is being published against a backdrop of changing voter attitudes, with support for Brexit now at its lowest level since 2016.
UKICE adds: “Only 32% of voters believe that leaving the EU was the right thing to do. As of December 2022, 56% of respondents would now vote to re-join the EU, compared to 45% at the beginning of the year.”
The think-tank declares any changes to the relationship “will hinge on a resolution being found to the stand-off over the Northern Ireland protocol”.
The protocol was formulated painstakingly to avoid the re-emergence of a hard border on the island of Ireland, and creates a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea. Northern Ireland, to avoid checks and controls on the island, is required to apply EU customs rules and align with a list of single-market regulations.
The UK Government has been seeking to renegotiate the protocol.
Director of UK in a Changing Europe Anand Menon said: “Amidst the sound and fury that still characterises the Brexit debate, little thought has been given as to how the current UK-EU relationship could be built on. This report explains where we have got to, why the prospects of such a renegotiation are slim, and the kinds of incremental change that both sides might, nevertheless, support.”
UKICE says: “The report finds that there are a series of significant deadlines on the horizon for financial services, data, electric vehicles, fisheries, and energy where an agreement will need to be reached to prevent further disruption.
“There are several areas where the current relationship could be deepened. UK participation in the Horizon Europe programme, deeper cooperation on energy security, and integration of the UK and EU emissions trading schemes are identified amongst a range of issues which could have a positive impact on relations.”