It hasn’t escaped the notice of us on the other side of the Channel that the situation in which the UK currently finds itself looks chaotic at best. Indeed, like most looking on from the continent, we hope for a timely resolution to the ongoing Brexit turbulence, not only so we can look to the future but so we can begin to address the other pressing matters affecting our daily lives. On both sides, we’ve invested heavily in preparing for “no deal”; money and focus better directed to other challenges.
The frustration felt by all concerned parties, from Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel to the hundreds of thousands, possibly a million who marched for a ‘People’s Vote’, is to be expected. Whether you voted for Leave or Remain in 2016, we do not need to remind ourselves that no country has ever left the European Union, and our negotiations have - to put it mildly - not been the prettiest: Mistakes have been made on both sides.
But it really is worth restating that we have far more in common than we’ve often thought over the past three years. And that’s why we must put aside our (small) differences. We are all hoping for a solution to this complex situation that works for both sides of the Channel, and that requires cooperation and compromise. We Brits rely on the EU for a great deal of trade as does the EU rely on the UK. Beyond trade, we work closely on research and innovation and in areas like security. It’s in both our interests to maintain and strengthen that relationship.
Our ties to the continent, meanwhile, run deep. Maritime UK is part of the European Network of Maritime Clusters (ENMC), which represents 17 EU member states and employs more than 12 million Europeans. Just as the ENMC hopes to avoid a “no deal”, we do not want to crash out of the bloc without an agreement. This is also the position of the UK government and British parliament, the EU and its member states. It is in our mutual interest, then, to make a success of the negotiations and rescue a deal that will allow us to continue to trade and work together as close to how we have done in recent decades.
By working together towards this end, we can ensure the maintenance of the complex supply chains built on pan-European cooperation. Without a deal, disruption to this supply chain—the supply chain on which our transnational manufacturers rely - is unavoidable. So, too, are severe problems for our service providers, who need access to the single market; we can anticipate numerous bureaucratic challenges surrounding VAT and other areas, too. This is to say nothing of the profound insecurity a “no deal” situation will create for our workers: the jobs, working conditions and training opportunities for seafarers in particular are at risk.
Despite some portrayals, we the British are still the same people that we always have been. We are all Europeans with a shared historical and cultural tradition. We want to continue to work together with the other countries of the continent regardless of what happens in the coming weeks, but while we are in a position to influence those events, we must all be pragmatic in our approach. We must work together to secure an outcome that works for all. Again, nobody has ever left the EU and it’s therefore no surprise that it’s a complex challenge. Let’s all take a deep breath and focus on getting this right for all Europeans.
After a third defeat for Theresa May’s deal on Friday and more indicative votes next week, we have some sense of the current mood in parliament, and perhaps even a direction of travel. Though some frustration with those in Westminster is inevitable, we must nevertheless give them the time to arrive at some sort of decision. If that means we must extend Article 50 further, then for the sake of avoiding a “no deal” scenario harmful both to the UK and the EU, it is in the interest of all parties to give it. It is a question of working together for the common good.
Harry Theochari is the chair of Maritime UK and the global head of transport at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright