6. November 2020

May a hard Brexit clear the air after all?

Since the United Kingdom in 2016 voted not to remain in the European Union, Britain and the rest of Europe seem to move further apart, especially with a no-deal Brexit. Though we may learn more about each other during the transition period. I spoke to our sister-think tank in the UK about topics that are crucial in the eyes of young foreign policy experts.

An Interview with AK Glück and Agora


AK: What are the most pressing defence and security challenges for the UK right now? 

Jack Defence & Security Programme: In 2018, then Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson stated that “we are living in a world becoming rapidly more dangerous, with intensifying challenges from state aggressors who flout the rules, terrorists who want to harm our way of life and the technological race with our adversaries”. I find this to be quite succinct two years later. If we are to consider what the most pressing defence and security issues facing the UK are, I would personally say it is the challenges from hostile states such as Russia, which perennially threatens its neighbours, and China which is becoming both more transparent and more assertive in realising its superpower ambitions. What’s more, terrorism continues to be a severe threat. Exacerbating all of these issues is the global climate crisis, which if left unchecked will bring about immense global instability. 


How is that regarded among young experts on UK defence policy & is there a shift of national security interests in the UK since Brexit and Corona?

Jack: Personally, I am slow to speak for young experts on UK defence policy. I believe there is a shift in that COVID-19 is exacerbating pre-existing national security issues. For example, the emergence of COVID-19 has seen a harsher tone taken to relations with China. The UK has banned Huawei from its 5G network and made clear that the UK ‘can’t have business as usual after this crisis’ with China. Likewise, it is possible that the political and economic impact of COVID-19 might incentivise greater aggression from Russia. 


Considering the recent US withdrawal of troops from the Middle East and Afghanistan, how is the UK dealing with its own withdrawal from armed conflicts? 

Jack: Understanding how the UK is dealing with its own withdrawal from armed conflicts is quite a broad topic, but two examples are worth getting into; the UK involvement in the 2011 military intervention in Libya (Operation Ellamy) and its continued presence in Afghanistan (ISAF/Operation Resolute Support). 

Operation Ellamy saw the UK deploy significant air and naval forces (with a limited Special Operations & footprint) on foot of the UNSC resolution 1973 to take ‘all necessary measures’ to protect civilians. While it was tactically a success, the UK’s (and NATO’s) failure to plan for ‘the day after’ and their quick withdrawal from armed conflict ultimately facilitated the severe violence Libya is now experiencing. 

The UK has withdrawn all combat troops from Afghanistan as of 2014, yet it still has almost 1,000 under Operation Toral, which aims to train and mentor Afghan security forces and provide security for NATO advisors. Full UK withdrawal is still somewhat of a distant prospect, given how an Afghan peace deal remains to be fully negotiated and implemented. What’s more, the Afghan security forces will likely need some form of international assistance during any potential ceasefire. 

The departure from Afghanistan offers the UK a chance to avoid repeating the mistakes of the intervention in Libya. In turn, this will allow the UK to improve upon its recent record of withdrawal from its armed conflict. 


The EU referendum in 2016 has changed UK relations with the EU strategically. There have been joint diplomatic efforts, e.g. the JCPOA’s E3 France, the UK and Germany. But what unites us right now? When it comes to international security, in what respect should/could the UK and Germany (and the EU) work closer together and create maybe a new paradigm of strong (European) relations? 

Jack: While Brexit has certainly challenged UK-German relations, what unites the UK and Germany has been largely unchanged. The UK and Germany are both liberal democracies who seek to uphold and perpetuate the liberal, rules-based international order. This is the bedrock of UK-German cooperation. Further, the UK and Germany have a wide range of common security interests; countering Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, managing China, combatting terrorism, and promoting global stability. What’s more, the UK and Germany have decades of trust and goodwill in matters of defence and security. This was fostered through close cooperation throughout the cold war up until the present. I believe the above is what unites the UK and Germany on the strategic level. 

I think there is absolutely ample room given the above for the UK to create a new paradigm of strong (European) relations. The extent to which it needs to be ‘a new paradigm’ or a revitalisation/expansion of current ties and common goals remains to be seen. Given the increasingly multi-polar world, rising global competition and declining global cooperation, we are not moving towards a more sustainable, peaceful future. 

With the UK’s new ‘Global Britain’ agenda, the UK government is definitely paying lip service to being keen on multilateralism. The extent to which this is sincere can be called into question by the UK’s threats to change elements of the Withdrawal Agreement – an international treaty – via domestic legislation. 

US and UK defence and security ties on the other hand will continue to be of paramount importance for both nations going forward. Their close relationship will be of immense benefit to both when ensuring the safety and prosperity of the United States and United Kingdom. 


How keen is the UK on multilateralism in a changing world order?  

Preeti Democracy & Governance programme: We could start by considering how the world order is changing in relation to the UK. We can take Brexit, COVID-19, and climate change as three examples affecting the UK’s economic and political climate. These all require some level of global cooperation in order to tackle them and move forward.

I think the UK’s keenness on multilateralism varies depending on which factors and which regions are in question. I think there’s also a blurred line between sincere keenness and necessity of multilateralism, as Jack alluded to. For example, for Brexit the UK will need to open up to other countries to build up amicable trade partners and allies. For COVID-19 – not just the UK, but every country around the world – will need to cooperate with each other. Indeed, no country is safe unless all countries are safe, same with climate change.

The recently signed trade deal with Japan shows that there is a willingness on the part of the UK to cooperate with other countries in trade. As Jack already mentioned, there’s a keenness again to strengthen ties with the US; indeed, the ‘special relationship’ will be paramount going forward. All eyes will be on the US election and any new foreign policies in respect to this.

I think a challenge for the UK going forward is to update its presumptions about multilateralism, accounting for a shifting world order and upcoming economic superpowers, including but not limited to China upon whom the UK is likely to be reliant on for trade, accounting for technological disruption (and technological advancement), and changing expectations of the British public. The UK will have to learn to balance a secure domestic policy with its international commitments. One thing that this will involve is striking a difficult but delicate balance between domestic immigration policies and which international partners the UK wants stronger ties with. This is one area where I think the UK’s keenness falters.

Bing: This question depends on the country and the subjects in question. As suggested above, there are areas where the UK would be in a better position to join multilateral relationships than if it was going alone and that’s going to be true for the rest of the countries in the world, such as tackling climate change and handling COVID-19.  

In areas, however, such as human rights, defence & security and technology and scientific developments, the UK would find itself unable to partner up with all countries around the world by choice or out of a choice. Take the example of the recent Hong Kong crisis, where diplomatic ties between China and the UK became increasingly tense and the US increasingly voiced its objections against the CCP regimes in China. The UK cannot simply avoid this increasingly polarised world order by going all multilateralism in foreign policy. It has to decide the strategic partners and decide the values it wants to uphold, albeit sometimes to the contrary of the European continent or the US, here is where I think the UK’s all-out-for- multilateralism struggles in the ever-changing world. 


Is there a decrease in populist movements & language since the UK introduced coronavirus lockdown measures? 

Eva Identities Programme: The initial phase of lockdown starting around March and April saw crowds of people all over the UK participating in a collective celebration of the efforts of the NHS in sustaining the country through the coronavirus pandemic. This manifested in various performative, as well as substantive, ways – ranging from clapping in solidarity for key workers every Thursday, to much-publicised charity donation drives. However, his rhetoric of national unity often obscures the disproportionate manner in which the virus has affected different communities.

While essential workers in general remain most vulnerable, there also exists a glaring racial gap that renders ethnic minorities particularly vulnerable to the adverse socio-economic effects of the pandemic and consequent lockdown measures. We know that 63 percent of healthcare workers who died due to coronavirus were from a BAME background. In response, online campaigns like #YouClapForMeNow did emerge which emphasised the contributions of an ethnically-diverse NHS and challenged hard-line anti-immigration views. Yet, incidents like the death of Belly Mujinga (a TfL key worker) epitomise what happens when racial disparities encounter structural failures such as the shortage of tests and PPE as well as the lack of an adequate social safety net for those experiencing job losses.

Simultaneously, this burden has been compounded by a growing wave of resentment towards restrictive pandemic measures which manifested in various anti-lockdown protests. With the announcement of another lockdown, we witness Nigel Farage of the Brexit Party (now rebranded as Reform UK) anointing himself as the voice of this resentment, in an explicit conjoining of the populist anti-immigration and anti-lockdown themes.


The European Commission has just announced the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. Migration was one of the main reasons the UK left the EU. How strict is the UK at the moment on special border measures, for example regarding refugees crossing the Channel from France? 

Shona Migration Programme: Boris Johnson’s government has made it clear that they are continuing the Hostile Environment towards refugees and migrants in the UK, a policy approach well established by previous Conservative Governments. Those who make the perilous journey across the Channel to seek asylum in the UK are no exception to these tough immigration policies. 

Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in October, Priti Patel, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, when speaking on refugee policy said:  

Take the example of someone who enters our country illegally on a small boat. Travelling through multiple safe EU countries….Shopping around for where they claim asylum. Making that final and extremely dangerous Channel crossing to the United Kingdom, while lining the pockets of despicable international criminal gangs. Our broken system is enabling this international criminal trade.

Priti Patel’s speech clearly outlines her government’s tough approach towards those seeking asylum in the UK after attempted boat crossings. The government’s securitisation of the issue by using language such as to ‘criminal gangs’ and ‘enters our country illegally’ is matched by militarised border policies. In August, Priti Patel created a new role in her department, ‘Clandestine Channel Threat Commander’, whose responsibilities include collaborating with the French government to strengthen borders and interceptions at sea. 

At the time of writing, more than 7,400 people have tried to cross the English Channel in 2020, and 292 people have died trying to cross the channel since 1999. Rather than focusing on the militarisation of the border and the interception of boats, the Government should create safe passages for people to enter the UK and seek asylum. The pandemic has compounded an already hostile policy environment for refugees seeking settlement in the UK. The UK’s global resettlement scheme would normally see 5,000 refugees resettled in the UK per year, however the government has suspended this scheme due to Covid-19. So far in 2020, the UK Government’s immigration policy has focused on deterrence measures and border strengthening – compassionate policy approaches which would ensure safe passage for asylum seekers and paths to settlement have not been priorities. 


The EU has agreed to reform its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) with the aim to make farming more climate-friendly. Since the UK’s departure from the CAP, what is the approach in Britain to combat climate change at home? Would you say that British farmers are better off in a new internal market?

Micheil Climate & Energy Programme: At the moment a majority of these variables and decisions are dependent on how existing bills progress through the legislative process of the UK and, ultimately whether or not the UK leaves the EU with an agreement in place or not. However, the question can be streamlined into two veins, if you don’t mind me doing so:

Firstly is the question of tackling sustainability through agriculture and farming. This is largely to be set as part of the upcoming Environment Bill alongside the Agricultural Bill, both of which are long overdue and the former of which has unfortunately been delayed in its progress through the House of Commons as a result of the ongoing pandemic and other political priorities. 

Secondly is the notion as to whether or not the British farmers will be “better off” – for which it’s too early to tell. The Agricultural sector receives a significant amount of funding guaranteed through the EU’s CAP, which the government has promised to offer even in the event of a no-deal scenario will continue through to the end of this parliament subject to beneficiaries upholding the same standards that made them eligible for the funding in the first place. However, the situation after this parliament is uncertain given the current lack of clarity in terms of how the UK’s agricultural sector will look. In addition, the divisions of the agricultural sector is largely within the remit of the union’s devolved administrations of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Parliament (Senedd Cymru), and the Northern Ireland Assembly. 

At the moment, however, there is a significant amount of friction over agricultural standards as to whether or not the UK will be more relaxed in them for foreign imports and undercut domestic production, or maintain the existing high standards in order to retain the EU as a trading partner. The UK will have to strike a balance and identify their areas of priority (e.g. fishing industry) as such: do they want to ensure that they can compete within a European Market by upholding the EU’s standards, or do they want to promote foreign investment and imports whilst relaxing said standards – and where do the farmers themselves fit into these decisions?


Brexit negotiations seem to not go well. There is no deal on the table. How likely is that the UK will leave the EU at the end of 2020 without an agreement? What would that mean for EU-UK relations? 

John, Vice-Chair, on behalf of the Europe Programme: Looking beyond the newspaper headlines and political theatrics, the reality is that the negotiating teams are no longer very far away on most policy issues. The EU has always maintained that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ and points of contention do remain, particularly on matters where each side has the most to lose (hence dissatisfaction over the ‘level playing field’ from the EU and fisheries from the UK).

Time remains the greatest barrier to a future relationship agreement being concluded. The UK Government’s insistence on ending the transition period at the end of 2020 never left sufficient time for trade negotiations which typically take years. Negotiators must now work incredibly fast, especially when one considers that any agreement reached must still be ratified by Parliaments on both sides of the Channel. The process will at least be expedited by the decision to discuss legal texts in parallel with ongoing talks on unresolved issues.

A ‘no deal’ Brexit is still avoidable, if there is enough political will on both sides. Businesses and the majority of citizens will be hoping that there is. Perhaps attention then turns to other questions: if a deal is agreed, is it any good and at what cost has it been reached?

The UK’s exit from the Single Market will have a hugely negative impact on businesses. The country’s likely withdrawal from a number of EU programmes, systems, and agencies will be inconvenient at best and dangerous at worst.

In the long run, the greatest damage may be done not by technical or political differences of opinion but by a breakdown in trust. Even the most basic of FTA‘s could be built upon over time, particularly once there is less public attention on relations with the EU in the UK, and if the European Commission and certain EU member states come to see that British policy makers are not seeking to undermine the Single Market or undercut their neighbours through watered-down standards or state aid subsidies. But that progress depends on good will and on strong relationships, not just on clever civil servants and interested politicians.

Whatever happens on 1 January 2021 – deal or no deal – the story of UK-EU relations is set to rumble on for years, if not decades.


Get to know Agora – the open forum for foreign policy !!






During Germany’s 2020 EU Council presidency, we will publish several articles in English and German analysing some of the German priorities in the EU, e.g. climate change, how to deal with threats to free speech, recovery plan for Europe, Brexit, digitisation, multilateralism and rule of law. Until the end of the year, when Portugal will take over the presidency for 6 months. 

This project is supported by the German Foreign Office. 

  1. Zeigt die Berliner Libyen-Konferenz echte Resultate?
  2. Die europäische Automobilindustrie zwischen Rezession und Modernisierung
  3. Жыве Беларусь! Belarus’ einzigartige Protestbewegung entzieht sich jeglicher Labels
  4. Georgia’s youth is taking European association to another level
  5. Reine (Re)Form-Sache? Die Nachhaltigkeit der GAP in der Kritik
  6. Eine Aufsicht gegen die “Schlupflöcher” des Binnenmarkts? Wie Europa gegen Geldwäsche vorgehen will
  7. Die Integration Europas wird im Kultursektor entschieden
  8. Reproductive health beyond the protests: Quo vadis, Europe?
  9. Democracy and human rights undermined: The second Nagorno-Karabakh war
  10. Rechtsstaatlichkeit in Europa: Wo kommen wir her, wo wollen wir hin?
  11. Portugal’s 4th EU Council presidency: Navigating through unprecedented times


The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s & OpenTTN’s members. Published comments express solely the authors’ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180.

Image via AK Glück



Vielleicht lernen wir uns durch toughe Brexit Verhandlungen besser kennen?

2016 fand das EU Referendum in Großbritannien statt und wir erinnern uns alle an das Ergebnis: Das Vereinigte Königreich stieg aus der EU aus, – nach 43 Jahren Mitgliedschaft, mit vielen Höhen und Tiefen. Am 15. Oktober sollte der Brexit nun endlich stattgefunden haben, doch konnten sich beide Seiten erneut auf keinen Deal einigen. Ein sogenannter No-Deal Austritt wurde stets angedroht, nun scheint er Wirklichkeit zu werden. 

Mit unserem Schwester-Think Tank Agora (Hauptsitz in London) hab ich in diesem Interview all die außen- aber auch innenpolitischen Schwerpunkte thematisiert, die sich in deren Programmen, ähnlich wie bei uns, widerspiegeln. Keine Frage, die britischen und deutschen beziehungsweise paneuropäischen Interessen divergieren noch mehr seit dem Referendum. Doch das Königreich ordnet seine globale Agenda neu, manchmal mehr mit Blick auf die USA, manchmal mehr mit Blick nach Europa. 

Einleitend sprach ich mit Jack vom Defence & Security Programme über aktuelle sicherheitspolitische Herausforderungen. Gefahren gehen seiner Meinung nach von den erstarkenden Supermächten Russland und China aus. Großbritannien hat Huawei erst vor Kurzem vom 5G-Ausbau ausgeschlossen, als direkte Antwort auf das neue Sicherheitsgesetz für Hong Kong. Der internationale Terrorismus, aber auch die Klimakrise sorgen ebenfalls weiterhin für globale Instabilität. 

Nachdem die USA Truppen aus dem Nahen und Mittleren Osten abgezogen haben, ging es um die Frage, wie sich der Rückzug britischer Truppen gestaltet. Libyen gilt dabei eher als Negativbeispiel, da der zu rasche Rückzug eine Spirale der Gewalt hinterlassen hat, die bis heute anhält, während die laufenden Friedensverhandlungen in Afghanistan auf einen ‘erfolgversprechenden’ Rückzug hindeuten. Auf die Frage, was Deutschland und das Vereinigte Königreich aktuell außenpolitisch vereint, weist Jack klar auf das gemeinsame Interesse an einer internationalen Gemeinschaft mit demokratischen Werten hin. 

Preeti vom Democracy & Governance programme habe ich gefragt, wie wichtig Multilateralismus für Großbritannien in einer wandelnden Weltordnung ist. Sie glaubt, dass das Problem darin besteht, eine Balance zwischen den variierenden Erwartungen der britischen Bevölkerung und den globalen Verpflichtungen zu finden. Insbesondere die Handelspolitik sei davon betroffen. Bing fügt hinzu, dass Großbritannien in multilateralen Beziehungen je nach Bereich definitiv besser dran sei, als den Weg allein zu gehen, gerade in Covid-Zeiten und beim Klimaschutz. 

Mit Eva vom Identities Programme sprach ich über populistische und fremdenfeindliche Sprache, und ob diese aktuell zurückgegangen ist. Die nationale Aktion Clap for Carers hatte nur den Anschein von Einigkeit, verschleierte aber, wie sehr das Coronavirus verschiedene Communities unterschiedlich heftig betrifft. Ethnische Minderheiten sind weitaus mehr gefährdet, vor allem durch die sozio-ökonomischen Folgen der Pandemie. 63 Prozent der NHS-Mitarbeiter*innen, die durch Corona starben, haben einen Migrationshintergrund. Großes Aufsehen erregte der Tod der Bahnhofsangestellten Belly Mujinga. Es entstand eine Welle von Anti-Lockdown Protesten. Gleichzeitig bleiben Politiker wie Nigel Farage auf ihrem Weg mit populistischer, fremdenfeindlicher Rhetorik. 

Die konservative Regierung von Boris Johnson hält in der Migrationspolitik, so Shona vom Migration Programme, weiterhin an einem harten Umgang mit Flüchtlingen, die beispielsweise über den Ärmelkanal von Frankreich ankommen, fest. Die Pandemie hat die Einreise nur erschwert. So wurde das britische global resettlement scheme ausgesetzt. Die Regierung setzt eher auf Abschreckung und schärfere Grenzkontrollen, was die sichere Einreise so gut wie unmöglich macht. 

Ein weiteres Thema ist die Klimapolitik und der Austritt aus der Gemeinsamen Agrarpolitik (GAP), über deren Reformen in der EU vor einigen Tagen abgestimmt wurde. Im Streit um den Brexit war das Thema Landwirtschaft von hoher Priorität. Micheil vom Climate & Energy Programme erklärt, dass aktuelle Gesetzesentwürfe u.a. abhängig davon sind, ob es zu einem No-Deal Brexit kommt oder nicht. Den britischen Farmern wurden hohe Ausgleichszahlungen für die Zeit nach der GAP versprochen. Aktuell drehen sich die Handelsgespräche um die Fischindustrie und die Kontrolle über die Meere.

Abschließend ging es mit Agoras Vize-Präsident John darum, ob, wie und wann der Brexit zustande kommt. ‘Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ (frei übersetzt: nichts ist vereinbart bis alles vereinbart werden konnte) sei der Leitsatz der EU, während Großbritannien versucht, in Windeseile Handelsabkommen auszumachen, die sonst Jahre dauern. Der Austritt aus dem europäischen Binnenmarkt hat natürlich einen immensen Negativeffekt auf Unternehmen und Geschäftsbeziehungen. Doch was auch immer am 1. Januar 2021 passiert, Abkommen oder kein Abkommen, die enge Verbindung zwischen Großbritannien und der Europäischen Union wird für einige Jahre, wenn nicht Jahrzehnte, unter dem jetzigen Tauziehen leiden. 


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