Brexit: impact, risks and opportunities for European development policy

Henökl, Thomas
Briefing Paper (8/2017)

Bonn: German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)

Dt. Ausg. u.d.T.:
Der Brexit: Auswirkungen, Risiken und Chancen für die Europäische Entwicklungspolitik
(Analysen und Stellungnahmen 4/2017)

In her “farewell letter” to EU-Council President Tusk, UK Prime Minister (PM) May stated that the UK “wants to make sure that Europe is capable of projecting its values and leading in the world.” What exactly this means for British engagement in European external relations and development cooperation (DC), is still unclear. Furthermore, the Brexit White Paper presented by the British government in February has failed to establish clarity regarding substantial issues. Merely three weeks after handing over the notification of the British withdrawal from the Union to the European Council on 29 March and officially triggering the negotiations under Article 50 TEU, PM May called for a general election in Britain to be held on June 8. This paper discusses possible consequences of Brexit for UK and EU cooperation with developing countries. A central recommendation is to protect development policy as far as possible from the trade-offs of the negotiation gamble and place common goals and values beyond dispute.

In more detail, EU development policy faces the following challenges: short-term problems regarding existing legal obligations, looming budget shortfalls and the securing of business continuity as well as the longer-term realignment of EU development policy following the departure of the United Kingdom (UK). There is also the problem of the UK’s succession in international treaties and mixed agreements in which both the EU and the member states are partners, such as trade agreements and memberships of international organisations, global development financing and representation in multilateral forums or negotiations.

Against the background of what is known about the positions of both sides, this paper addresses three subject areas:

1. Brexit diminishes the influence and shaping power of both sides, the UK and the EU. Issues of security, migration and, above all, trade dominate the debate on post-Brexit external policies. The form and conditions for further involvement of the UK in EU development policy have yet to be defined. Overall, EU-UK cooperation will become less structured, less predictable and more strongly subjugated to national interest. The weakening of Europe’s stature, its DC capacity and economic power might result in a series of negative effects for international cooperation and multilateral processes.

2.  The development agenda plays a subordinate role in the Brexit negotiations as well as in British politics, and risks being instrumentalised as a bargaining chip. The political forces that gained the upper hand in the UK with the Brexit referendum give rise to fears that a shift in political culture and a reduction in the significance of DC in British politics could come to pass. The general elections on 8 June will most likely further strengthen the government’s Brexit-mandate and positions.

3. The effects of Brexit will also be felt on trade with developing countries, presenting these with uncertainties as well as specific challenges and problems. However, the situation presents the occasion to improve existing trade and partnership agreements. Brexit should be viewed as an opportunity and inspiration for reforms to enhance the coherence of EU trade and development cooperation as well as other policy areas. More effective cooperation at EU level could partially compensate for the loss of the UK.

About the author

Henökl, Thomas

Political Scientist

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