Saturday

10th Dec 2022

Opinion

Can King Charles III reset the broken Brexit relationship?

  • 'Friend or Foe?' France has already been chosen as the location of the new King's first official visit abroad (Photo: BBC news/screengrab)
Listen to article

The state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey some 10 days ago was a ceremony which marked the end of a mourning period during which millions of people globally paid tributes to the late monarch, the longest-serving in Britain's history.

Among the participating foreign dignitaries were the heads of state of all 27 EU member states, including French president Emmanuel Macron and German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier. In addition, the EU as an organisation was represented by Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen, the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission respectively.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

European leaders also paid personal tributes to the late Queen. Both Michel and von der Leyen described her as an anchor of stability in a rapidly changing world.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also thanked her, on behalf of the Union, for her "unique contribution" to building peace and reconciliation in the world. Many ordinary Europeans also brought flowers to and signed condolence books in British embassies around the Union.

This was an impressive demonstration of solidarity from the EU towards a country that left the Union in 2020, and with whom the EU's relations have never recovered.

In fact, EU-UK relations have deteriorated dramatically due to the 2016 Brexit referendum, the UK's acrimonious EU withdrawal process, frequent disagreements between London and Brussels over the Northern Ireland protocol, and the continuing unfriendly rhetoric coming from 10 Downing Street.

However, the reactions of EU leaders and citizens to the Queen's death demonstrate that Europeans on the continent still feel deeply connected to the UK, regardless of Brexit and the ensuing political frictions that it has caused.

Capitalise on goodwill

The British government could capitalise on the goodwill that the Queen's passing away has generated towards the UK overseas.

As noted by Lord Rickett, former permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, "there is a chance to repair the country's damaged international relationships, particularly in Europe".

In the aftermath of the Queen's funeral, the sentiment in Brussels and other EU capitals will be more favourable to a détente than it has been at any time since 2016.

While this should be good news for the new prime minister Liz Truss, her future strategy towards Europe remains far from clear.

Although Truss campaigned to keep the UK in the EU in 2016, she subsequently changed her position and her victory in the Tory leadership race caused unease in Brussels due to her recent hardline approach toward the EU.

She has previously suggested that, as prime minister, she would be willing to scrap parts of the Northern Ireland protocol —notwithstanding its position as a legal commitment concluded as part of the UK's EU withdrawal agreement.

She has also said that the jury is still out on whether French president Macron is Britain's "friend or foe", which stands in marked contrast to France's (and Marcon's) dignified response to late Queen's passing.

It seems that the UK government has already begun to take advantage of the changed sentiment in Europe, albeit cautiously.

Olive branch?

At the side-lines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Truss and Macron held a bilateral meeting to discuss energy security and the war in Ukraine. Ahead of the meeting, Truss used a more conciliatory tone than before, emphasising that she wanted to work "constructively" with the French leader.

However, fears remain that the new PM will continue to prioritise domestic Conservative party concerns over larger national ones.

The UK should also extend a symbolic political olive branch to Brussels to maintain the positive sentiment on the continent. Given that Truss' government will conduct a new review of the UK's defence and foreign policy, London could announce that it would like to participate in certain aspects of EU defence cooperation as a third-country, like the US, Canada, and Norway already do.

Beyond getting criticised by certain hard-line Brexiteers, this action would cost very little for the UK.

However, the potential payoff could be significant. EU defence cooperation is an intergovernmental domain in which the Union's supranational institutions play a very limited role. The UK would therefore not have to "take orders" from Brussels or incorporate EU rules in its national legislation.

Enter King Charles

And this is where the British monarchy come in.

Remarkably, King Charles III is now in a unique position to help reset Britain's role in Europe. France has already been chosen as the location of the new King's first official visit abroad.

While the potential impacts of "royal diplomacy" should not be overstated, they can send a clear message as to wider state priorities. They also, in the context of British-French relations have real historical significance.

It was King Edward VII whose diplomacy in the early twentieth century helped facilitate the signing of the 'entente cordiale' between the UK and France in 1904. That agreement laid the basis for democratic Europe's victories in 1918 and 1945. Then, as now, the new British monarch come to the throne in the shadow of his long-serving mother (Queen Victoria served from 1837 to 1901).

France should be the starting point. Britain, France and the EU continue to share many common challenges including protecting democracy in Ukraine and combatting climate change.

History shows the way forward.

Author bio

Dr Niklas Nováky and Dr Eoin Drea are senior research officers at the European People's Party think-tank, the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies in Brussels.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU warns Truss to stick to Brexit deal

The former foreign minister was the one who introduced Northern Ireland protocol bill earlier this year, which would allow the UK government to abandon parts of the protocol — in breach of its divorce agreement with the EU.

Johnson quits, leaving Brexit headaches to successor

British prime minister Boris Johnson has resigned as Conservative party leader, starting a race among Conservative MPs to replace him as prime minister but leaving a range of issues — Brexit, Northern Ireland, and Scottish independence — for his successor.

EU takes legal action against UK over post-Brexit trade

"Let's call a spade a spade, this is illegal," EU commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič said on the UK's move to introduce legislation suspending parts of the Northern Ireland protocol, as the commission launched several probes against London.

No Tories are now defending Brexit — and Truss is noticing

The mood in London in ruling political, financial, and opinion-forming circles is that the steam is going out of the Brexit balloon. Brexit is now seen as a bore, replete with negatives for economic, scientific and civil society.

Post-Brexit, UK is now reliant on EU goodwill for its security

Brexit has curtailed Britain's role within European internal security, presenting new risks. The greatest impact comes from the loss of UK influence — and the newfound reliance on informal influence and the goodwill of its European counterparts.

A plea to the EU from inside Tehran's Evin jail

As a result of my peaceful civil activism, I have been arrested 13 times, undergone five trials, and been sentenced to 34 years of imprisonment and 154 lashes in total. I am currently in Evrin prison, without the slightest regret.

No, Bosnia and Herzegovina is not ready for the EU

The European Commission has asked the member states' leaders assembling in Brussels next week for the customary end-of-year European Council to approve EU candidate status for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Doing so would be a mistake.

The military-industrial complex cashing-in on the Ukraine war

From the outset, arms manufacturers eyed this war as a profitable business opportunity. Structural changes took place across the EU, not only to fast-track arms to Ukraine, but also to make more public finance available to the highly-lucrative arms industry.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU Commission silent on Greek spyware sale to Madagascar
  2. A plea to the EU from inside Tehran's Evin jail
  3. EU lets Croatia into Schengen, keeps Bulgaria and Romania out
  4. Energy crisis costs thousands of EU jobs, but industrial output stable
  5. Illegal pushbacks happening daily in Croatia, says NGO
  6. No, Bosnia and Herzegovina is not ready for the EU
  7. EU takes legal action against China over Lithuania
  8. EU Commission shoring up children's rights of same-sex parents

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us