Over the last 12 months, or more, I haven’t been to a meeting or bumped into a colleague here in Brussels without being asked about Brexit. What does it mean for manufacturers in the UK, what does it mean for manufacturers across Europe, and what does the UK want from a ‘new’ relationship with EU. This has only intensified since the referendum result in June, but with one significant change; people in Brussels are now starting to ask ‘what does Brexit mean for the EU?’
Last Friday the leaders of 27 Member States held a meeting in Bratislava, which was widely reported in the UK as a meeting of the other Member States in preparation for a negotiation with the UK on a new deal. However, in reality it was more about asking where does Europe go now?
This week EEF has published a set of priorities for manufacturers in the UK. The report, Britain and the EU: Manufacturing an orderly exit, produced in partnership with Squire Patton Boggs, highlights the importance of access to the single market for companies in Britain, how to balance the importance of the Customs Union and the drive for international trade deals, and maintaining a fair flow of labour.
It is the first and last of these priorities which is likely to be central to the negotiation between the UK and the EU. It is highly likely that any deal on access to the market will need to be balanced with an agreement on the movement of people.
Many of the key actors in the negotiations here in Brussels see any change to the free movement of people as a non-negotiable, even fundamental to the European project itself. However with a number of existential challenges faced by the EU, it remains to be seen whether there may be some appetite from other Member States to look at this more closely. We need to recognise that this will be a negotiation not only between the UK and the machinery of the EU, the Commission and the European Parliament, but between all of the individual Member States themselves.
What is clear is that the UK must negotiate a deal with the EU that is bespoke and addresses Britain’s needs; but we will also need to find a solution which protects the integrity of the rest of the EU and supports manufacturing across the Union.
You can download our Brexit report here.
Fergus McReynolds, EEF’s Director of EU Affairs, represents the interests of the UK manufacturing sector from our office in Brussels, liaising with the European institutions and stakeholders.
Working with MEPs, the UK Permanent Representation, the EU Commission and our European partner organisations, including CEEMET; EEF will engage in the negotiation process and will continue to ensure that manufacturers in the UK have a strong voice in Brussels.