The View From Brussels

Giles Keane

The UK’s future relationship with the EU may be front and centre of discussions in the lead up to the 12th December general election. But over in Brussels, people seem to be enjoying something of a “Brexit mini-break.”

The chatter in the meeting rooms and cafés around the EU district in recent weeks has been more around the makeup of Ursula von der Leyen’s new European Commission than the nuances of the Labour Party’s election promises.

Part of this is probably down to a basic human desire to talk about something different for a change. But it could also be explained by the EU bubble not really knowing what to wish for out of the election.

There is a sense of resignation among all but a few diehards that, one way or another, the UK will be leaving the club. The question remains “how and when.”

If the Tories get a majority and a mandate for the current deal on the table, the feeling is this would at least bring some sort of clarity in the short term. Any other election outcome would mean another extension and more uncertainty – and hopes in Brussels that this could somehow result in no-Brexit are ever decreasing among all but a few diehards.

One thing is very clear in the minds of Brussels insiders. Whatever happens on 31st January, Brexit will be far from done. The general impression is that it is not fully appreciated in the UK that there is a whole other long process to follow. Any suggestion that potentially the most complex trade deal that will ever have been negotiated with a third country can be achieved in 11 months is seen as pure fantasy. The question then becomes whether there will be a last minute extension to the transition period – déjà vu – or, if the UK will just crash out with no deal in 2021.

So, as Brussels braces itself for the long game, it can perhaps be forgiven for taking a few weeks off to enjoy the Christmas markets.

Giles Keane is a Partner at Acumen Public Affairs, MHP’s partner agency in Brussels.