The Brief – Global Britain: We’re just not that into EU

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

As vacuous slogans go, ‘Global Britain’, launched when Theresa May took over Brexit Britain from David Cameron in 2016, has been hard to beat.

In 2018, UK lawmakers urged the government to set out what its international partners could expect from ‘Global Britain’. The response from ministers was a deafening silence.

‘Global Britain’ may not have much meat on her bones yet, but we are now beginning to see what she will look like under Boris Johnson. The early signs are that, in policy and strategic direction, the UK is decoupling from Europe.

Unlike the EU, which has taken a very ‘softly-softly’ approach to its relations with China, Johnson’s government is choosing a confrontational path.

On Thursday (2 July) the prime minister offered citizenship rights to the three million people living in Hong Kong if their rights are repressed by China’s new security law.

Many would say that’s more generous treatment than London has offered to the 3.5 million EU nationals already living in the UK, around 40% of whom have only been given ‘pre-settled’ status that will require them to apply again for residency rights in five years.

Unlike Europeans wishing to move to the UK in the future, Hong Kongers will not face any minimum salary requirements in the UK.

Next on Johnson’s menu is set to be unpicking the deal to allow Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to build parts of the UK’s 5G structures.

In June, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier expressed frustration that his UK counterparts had not broached the subjects of future co-operation on foreign, defence and security policy at all in the future relations talks, though all are part of the Johnson government’s negotiating mandate.

That was underscored last week by Johnson’s announcement that the Department for International Development will be subsumed into the Foreign Office (FCO) in September.

DFID had been widely respected among its peers across national capitals and the European Commission. But that counts for nothing.

If anything, being respected in Brussels is another reason to scrap DFID. The UK’s retreat from its leading role in development policy may only be gradual, but it is a retreat nonetheless.

On defence, meanwhile, London has gradually unwound its participation in common security and defence policy (CSDP) missions in third countries and appears to have abandoned any plans it might have had of involvement in EU defence procurement projects.

Any deal that is reached by September between Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost – who will then take up his new job as Johnson’s national security advisor – is likely to be little more than a bare-bones agreement on goods trade.

The next priority will be trade in services. When it comes to working with the EU on foreign policy, defence and development, the truth is that London just isn’t interested.

The Roundup

If you need a small break, make sure you have a look at our weekly newsletters on foreign affairs and digital to catch up with all the latest from the EU’s policy sectors.

Several European countries have reported a resurgence of cases or large localised outbreaks of COVID-19, and there is still ‘community transmission’ in most EU/EEA countries, according to a report released. The report called for continued vigilance despite noting decreasing trends in incidence across Europe overall.

European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen called a mini-summit for next week with her counterparts at the Council, Parliament and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to work towards a deal on the EU recovery package.

‘The prospect of a post-Brexit trade deal being brokered this year suffered a new setback on Thursday as the first round of in person talks since the Covid-19 pandemic broke up a day early with both sides citing ‘significant disagreements’.

After 20 years of negotiations, the text of the EU-Mercosur deal was concluded between the EU and the Latin American countries of Mercosur on 28 June. While the agreement still has to be approved by the European Parliament and Council, farmers and environmental NGOs remain disappointed.

For the first time since 2015, the number of asylum applications filed in the EU rose last year compared to the previous year. The German EU Council Presidency is pressing for reforms to the system, but the Commission’s proposals are still some way off.

Diversifying food production is key to strengthening the resilience of European agriculture and creating realistic business models for farmers in the coming years, according to EU’s agri-boss Janusz Wojciechowski.

Near-silent buses shift around in a residential neighbourhood in the province of Groningen, home to one of the greenest industrial areas in the world. We’re in 2026 and the Netherlands gives the world a preview of what a “hydrogen economy” could look like.

Whether in the European recovery plan or the just transition fund, Pascal Canfin says he is in favour of applying the EU sustainable finance taxonomy, which allows drawing a line between gas projects that merit public funding and those that don’t.

As European football leagues began to resume play, the NGO Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) rolled out a new initiative to get more clubs thinking about their carbon footprint.

Look out for…

  • Commissioner Jourová speaks to French Secretary of State for Digital Affairs

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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