View from the Street 2017: Fasten your seat belts

Ania Lewandowska

View from the Street 2017: Fasten your seat belts

In June last year the people of the United Kingdom as a whole decided we are leaving, in a huff, on a trip around the world to meet new friends and strike new deals. And, most importantly, we are never coming back. But how is the UK’s decision to leave the European Union perceived in other member states? What do they think about us getting ready to go?

We thought we had that Brexit ticket safely in the bag, even if we didn’t quite know our destination. We were sort of getting things organised, arguing about the insurance or the lack of it. And while we were trying to figure out where it was exactly that we were going, a few Remain campaigners put a spoke in the wheel.

As it turns out, the UK Government must pass new Brexit tests. Firstly, the High Court ruled that Theresa May cannot trigger Article 50 and start the Brexit process without the backing of Parliament. The Supreme Court appeal judges are likely to deliver a split decision, and MPs will probably have their say. Although it is extremely unlikely they will vote against the electorate to halt Brexit, they might opt for amending the planned legislation, which could somewhat complicate matters for Mrs May and her Brexit team. And there is also the issue before the Supreme Court of whether devolved administrations require to give their consent.

The Brexit team has also been through upheavals, with the surprise resignation of Britain’s ambassador to the EU earlier this week. Sir Ivan Rogers didn’t just announce his retirement; instead he opted for a departure with a strong message suggesting that ministers are unwilling to listen to civil servants. His replacement was quickly found: a "hard-headed" diplomat, Sir Tim Barron, is taking his seat in Brussels.

But while the domestic commentators predict delays, Brussels seems pretty keen that we just get on with it.

Other EU member states are not interested in “hard Brexits”, “flexits” or light exits. The fact is that the longer we remain in limbo, the more damaging the situation is for the EU as a whole. Even without Brexit, Europe is not entirely sure what to expect in 2017.

The EU’s response to its multiple challenges will be shaped by a rash of elections in 2017. Countries accounting for about 40 per cent of the EU economy are going to the polls this year. Chancellor Angela Merkel is running for a fourth term in Germany. People of France, Germany and Slovenia will elect new presidents and the make up of five national parliaments will be altered or changed completely.

One outcome, in my opinion, is likely: in order to deter future ‘runaways’ the EU may try to teach us a lesson. But even if they don’t, the fact that the Canadians briefly walked out last year after their comprehensive economic and trade agreement (Ceta) was put on hold because of a tiny region in Belgium, Wallonia, blocked Belgium’s government from signing the deal, is a sign of how difficult Britain's Brexit negotiations might be.

In addition, Scotland’s opposition to Brexit and demands for membership of the single market should not be underestimated. So even after Mrs May’s government overcomes the difficulty of triggering Article 50, her trip into the unknown may face more headwinds with changeable weather forecasts in Europe.

Happy 2017 and keep your seat belts fastened!

Ania Lewandowska is a Senior Associate at Charlotte Street Partners. After graduating from Edinburgh Napier University with a degree in Journalism in 2009, she completed postgraduate studies at the University of Edinburgh and was awarded the Robert Schuman Communications scholarship at the European Parliament Directorate General for Communications in Warsaw. Most recently she worked as a Policy and Communications Advisor for an MEP.