Endless Brexit: how Britain's new status would affect Ukraine?

Author : Yaroslava Barbieri

Source : 112 Ukraine

Britain with its current government is unlikely to completely break the dialogue with Moscow
13:30, 23 September 2016

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Seventy years ago, September 19, 1946, Winston Churchill spoke in Zurich with the famous speech in which crystallized two large controversial ideas: the idea of "United States of Europe" and ambivalent self-consciousness of Britain regarding Europe.

This ambivalence is clearly manifested in the forgotten words of Churchill: " We are with Europe, but not of it."

These formulas perfectly reflect the paradoxical role of Britain, which, on the one hand, has always opposed the excessive integration ("ever closer union," for example), and on the other, has made a great contribution to the "success stories" of the European project: the rise of a common market in 1980 and EU expansion eastward in the 2000s.

Related: EU leaders develop union renovation plan taking Brexit into account

So what does Brexit mean today? And what should be the strategy of Ukraine about this?

Institute of World Politics organized a meeting, at which we tried to find the answers on these and other Brexit-related questions.

Brexit after the referendum: the main expectations

First of all, to understand the consequences of Brexit, you must remember that this is not an accomplished event. The grandson of Winston Churchill, MP (House of Commons, the British Conservative Party) Sir Nicholas Soames stated: "Brexit is a process." If Brexit is a "process", now it was put on a pause.

For its launching, British government should officially declare the reference to Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. The result would begin negotiations biennium to define a new format of relations between Britain and the EU.

Related: First visit of Brexit ideologist: Boris Johnson in Ukraine

Currently, more and more analysts warn about the possibility of failure of Brexit. For the last 40 years, EU trade policy is entirely at the mercy of Brussels; Britain's prime minister Theresa May has announced that the government is not ready to begin Brexit process because of lack of experts.

Meanwhile, Britain is preparing the lawsuit, which aims to force the government to apply Article 50 only after the vote in parliament. It would actually bring Brexit to nothing, because, as you know, the main legislative body in the UK does not support Brexit.

Related: Theresa May predicts "difficult times" in connection with Brexit

So, Britain might face at least a two-year "transitional" period. What does it mean for Ukraine?

Compromised London? Implications for sanctions regime

Despite the predicted British decreasing of the impact on EU sanctions policy, until the country officially remains a member of the EU, Ukraine will receive support from it.

That is why May has confirmed the preserving of sanctions until the Minsk agreements are fully implemented. She also noted that Britain not to recognize the annexation of Crimea. Meanwhile Britain with its current government is unlikely to completely break the dialogue with Moscow. May mentioned the need to establish a constructive dialogue with Russia in the fight against common challenges of terrorism.

Related: Reuters: 'Explosive shock' as Britain votes to leave EU

Therefore, negotiations with the EU on a new format of relations can have a negative impact on the uncompromising official London concerning strategy of resolve the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. In other words, sanctions policy towards Russia can become “hostage” to negotiations between Britain and the EU, particularly in the event of coming to power loyal to Russia's political forces in France and Germany.

As a result, there will be no unanimous vote required for the continuation of sanctions, which is updated semi-annual cycles.

No "BlitzBrezit": implications for FTA

Future role of Britain as part of the free trade area with Ukraine depends on the agreement, which Britain will provide for itself.

While the deal is not completed, Britain officially remains a member of the EU, and therefore will continue to benefit from more than 50 trade agreements that the EU has signed with other countries. However, in the case of the EU, Britain would be forced to pursue new trade negotiations with these countries on a bilateral basis, and these negotiations require a long time.

This includes FTA with Ukraine - as of 2015, Britain became the eleventh largest trading partner of Ukraine.

Related: Britain may lead EU in 2017 despite Brexit

The EU-Britain talks will be hard in order to delay the other Member States from the temptation to hold similar referendums.

An important example is a promised veto of the Visegrad Group in relation to any agreement that would lead to restriction of freedom of movement, and therefore the rights of many citizens of countries that are now in Britain. In any case, there would not be any BlitzBrexit.  

Moreover, the satisfactory conclusion of a trade agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom might take up to eight years.

Tactical support: the new defense policy

Ukrainian experts have long proclaimed the Budapest Memorandum, signed by the United Kingdom, a key defeat in 25 years of Ukrainian independence.

The Committee on European Affairs at the Graduate House of Lords shares the view that the Kingdom did not implement appropriate steps to protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

The report of the Committee on relations between the EU and Russia states: "As one of the four parties that signed the Budapest Memorandum (1994), which is to guarantee the territorial integrity of Ukraine, the United Kingdom had a special responsibility in the peak of the crisis. The government has not shown adequate activity though."

Related: Merkel to expect quick decisions from Britain in the context of Brexit

However, accusing Britain of inaction would be unfair.

From 2009 to 2014, the British Ministry of Defense has spent £ 3.9 million to assist Ukraine through military support fund and Conflict Pool in joint exercises, military education and contributions to the coordinated activity of NATO.

In addition, the United Kingdom joined the coordination committee on defense reform in Ukraine, which also includes the US, Canada, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland.

Since the beginning of February 2014, Britain has provided personal protective equipment, winter fuel, medical kits, winter clothing, and sleeping bags - in excess of 1.2 million pounds. In early March last year, the British Defense Ministry has provided assistance to the Armed Forces in the form of non-lethal weapons worth an additional 850 thousands pounds. This program includes short-term training of the Armed Forces in the medical field, logistics training, training for the infantry, and building intelligence.

Related: Theresa May: Britain continues to support sanctions against Russia

In addition, over the past year Britain has trained 2000 military Armed Forces at various levels.

In March of this year, Britain signed a new defense agreement with Ukraine that will last for 15 years. This agreement involves the mutual exchange of information on potential threats, participation in joint military exercises, training of the Armed Forces and cooperation in military technology.

One more option is an extension of Normandy format by the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum. However, Britain to be included in building new relations with the EU and defining of its new position in the world.

Related: Britain and the United States to send their advisers to Ukrainian Ministry of Defense

So we can expect that the UK will continue to support further cooperation with Ukraine in terms of defense bilaterally and within NATO.

However, British ambassador in Ukraine Judith Gough stressed that Ukraine does not have to "focus" on the decision of Britain to leave the EU, but rather should proactively produce discourse on the "what Ukraine is and what it stands for," addressed to all the capitals of Europe.

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