NEWS11 March 2020

What we know (and don't) about the future of Europe

Brexit Covid-19 Impact 2020 News Public Sector Trends UK

UK – Coronavirus may prove to be a “political gift” to the government as it could paper over the “slow puncture” of a Brexit-fuelled economic slowdown in the eyes of the electorate. 

Big Ben and EU flag

However, services such as marketing research and the creative industry at large should beware the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, according to political scientist Professor Anand Menon. 

Talking on the second day of the Impact 2020 conference, Menon said that the slowdown was “like a slow puncture on your bike – it takes ages to realise it and you don’t know where you picked it up. 

“That’s what the government is partly counting on, and in this sense at least COVID-19 is a massive gift to the government: as I suspect it would be successful in spinning this line. I don’t think a Labour government would be able to puncture that narrative.”

The director of independent research firm The UK in a Changing Europe said Brexit negotiations would prove “very, very messy for services”. 

He thought it almost certain that, should the UK and EU strike a deal before the end of the transition period there would be nothing on services. “For all they say that the [current rules around] services are not complete, it’s a damn sight more complete than agreements anywhere else in the world.”

His talk, What we know (and don’t) about the future of Europe, covered the ironies and paradoxes on both sides of the English Channel as negotiations kick off, with political rhetoric rarely matching the economic realities. Issues over fishing rights and Gibraltar would over-index as politicians looked for populist policies with which to placate their electorates.

“It’s the only trade negotiation in history whose sole purpose is to make trade more difficult,” Menon added. 

Meanwhile, it was still unclear whether the Brexit scars within the Union would recover or when. Still, some 58% of remain voters would refuse to rent a room in their house to a leave voter and 55% of them would be upset if their daughter married a leave voter. 

The Tories faced a dichotomy over voters in their new ‘blue wall’ wanting extra funding for their regions and extra taxation for the rich, in contrast to traditional conservative values. Wednesday’s budget was a clear indication of how it intended to woo those areas with fresh investment despite “precisely the kind of Brexit this government is pursuing will disproportionately hit the areas it is apparently trying to help”.

Labour’s biggest challenge to becoming an election-winning machine was schisms within the party, “still tearing itself apart on values,” he said. Any new leader would struggle to bring the factions together: instead, he recommended “relaunching the party and clearing the stables out”.

It seems that the UK’s future as part of the continent of Europe, and as a union in itself, is still far from clear – and that will have profound implications for political and consumer research in the months and years ahead.