Britain’s decision to leave the EU sent shockwaves crashing throughout the continent. As Europe struggled to interpret the outcome of the referendum, we heard calls for Brussels to drive a hard bargain with the UK in order to contain the ‘Brexit contagion’. The European Council President Donald Tusk’s warning that the UK must not be allowed to ‘profit’ from leaving the bloc summed up this mood. But now, it seems, our neighbours in Europe are coming to terms with Brexit. And with it, the desire to punish the UK appears to be dampening.
Michael Roth, Germany’s European Affairs minister, has this week suggested that a ‘special status’ could be achieved which would take into account Britain’s size and previous commitment to the European project. Crucially, Roth, a junior partner in Angela Merkel’s coalition, went on to say that such a relationship would likely bear ‘limited comparison’ to that of other non-EU states. Here’s what Roth said:
‘Given Britain’s size, significance and its long membership of the European Union, there will probably be a special status which only bears limited comparison to that of countries that have never belonged to the European Union’
This will be music to the ears of Brexiteers who have spent months urging the British public to think beyond the Norway and Switzerland models and believe in Britain’s ability to negotiate a new type of relationship with the EU. So whilst we’ve heard hard-done-by remainers say that none of these models would fit the UK, a new possibility seems to be gaining traction: the prospect of a unique British ‘model’ of our own. Roth’s message also offers a new, interesting and hopeful line of argument. We’ve heard talk of Britain being punished for Brexit; instead, the German minister says, Britain should be rewarded for having been a member of the EU in the first place.
Although he played down the possibility of Britain retaining single market access while placing limits on the free movement of people, Roth’s conciliatory tone suggest May should focus her efforts on negotiating with enterprise-focused European capitals rather than with inward-looking Eurocrats. With European economies keen to maintain close ties with Britain, Theresa May’s task may not be as impossible as some have suggested. So even if some are worried that Britain may have burned its bridges with the European Union, it seems there is plenty of appetite for a deal with the UK amongst Europe’s nations.