Geoff Meade MBE was Europe Editor of the Press Association for 35 years, covering Europe from its Brussels heart, reporting on the rise and fall of politicians, treaties, scandals, alliances and currencies. With his insider’s knowledge and contacts, few are better placed to comment on the view from Europe on Britain’s momentous decision to leave the EU. Don’t miss Geoff’s entertaining take on Brexit at the Gatwick Diamond Business Speakers Conference on 20th October at K2, Crawley. Interview by Ian Trevett.
Have you spoken to your contacts in Brussels about their reaction to Brexit?
There has been no other conversation in town!
Just like this side of the Channel, the first reaction was surprise; there was an expectation that the status quo would remain in place. Europeans find it a very strange decision and can’t really work it out. Even looking from a British point of view, they can’t work out what the upside is. I would describe the mood as confusion and bemusement.
Even now, in late September, no-one actually understands what Brexit actually means. Even when you get politicians such as Boris saying, “Brexit means Brexit”, no-one knows what this actual translates to in reality. It is not a case of the EU politicians or commentators trying to be difficult, they are just confused. Do we British want to extract ourselves from the single market or not?
Being British in Brussels means you can’t walk around for five minutes without someone asking for you to explain it to them.
And then there is the legendary Article 50. They say to us Brits, “You voted to leave, and you say Brexit is Brexit, and then you don’t want to trigger the exit?” They are just utterly bemused.
How difficult will Brexit be in reality?
David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, has said, ”This is likely to be the most complicated negotiation in modern times, maybe the most complicated negotiation of all time.” I agree. Aside from the actual mechanics, there is the emotional side, which is like excommunicating a family member. And the decision has to be made on how much of a break there will be. Will we just rip everything up and start again?
Firstly, Britain has to come to a consensus about what it actually wants. Then we have the mechanical process. We are currently in a phoney war, but it won’t stay this way. Once negotiations start, it will be a genuine problem. This could not be more difficult as no-one has ever faced anything like this before. The negotiations will inevitably run into the sand. And you wonder how much goodwill there will be on both sides to make this amicable. The EU negotiators will have to act in the best interests of the EU, which may not also suit Britain’s interests.
Why is there so much hostility to the EU?
When EU politicians speak about the federal project, I don’t think they realise how much this puts people off in Britain. There was a complacency in Brussels which didn’t help. In fact, the move to federalism has slowed down due to increased Euro-sceptism across Germany, France and Italy. There are much better ways to stop the federal train than just leaving all-together.
There is a view in Britain that the country has been run by Europe, but this is not true. There is already a two-tier Europe, and if you think of three of the main pillars of the EU, the single market, the single currency and a border-free Europe, we are only signed up to one of these. We have opted out of the big policies when it has suited us.
Then there is the image of all these bureaucratic Eurocrats. Leaving Europe won’t mean we are free of the bureaucrats; there are plenty of these in Whitehall.
I think it is safe to say that you voted to remain?
I don’t understand the argument put out by Brexiteers that Britain will be great again. I don’t see where the this utopia is. In fact, we weren’t doing badly as we were. There is no great, free world out there waiting for us. I know that there hasn’t been a dramatic impact as yet, but businesses are being affected, and the exit hasn’t started yet.
I believe that we are better together, and there is strength in numbers when we are facing external threats such as global terrorism.
Like many on the continent, I just can’t see what the upside is.
What can delegates expect to hear at the gdb Speakers Conference?
I will try to explain what I think is going on in Brussels and how it affects Britain and our businesses. But a lot may well happen between now and then. Or maybe we will all still be just as confused.
The GDB Speakers Conference
Gatwick Diamond Business have brought together three expert speakers to help you focus on what is important to your business.
• Hear about entrepreneurial business success from Lara Morgan
• Find out what the result of the EU Referendum means to you and your business from Geoff Meade
• Charles Clarke, former Home Secretary, will discuss politics’ aversion to long-term decision-making and the necessity for a political consensus on key areas of national infrastructure
Sponsored by Gatwick Airport, Reigate & Banstead Borough Council, Santander and University of Brighton, the inaugural gdb Speakers Conference is being held alongside the Target Business Expo at K2, Crawley on Thursday, 20th October, 2016, and will allow you to hear from three outstanding speakers, as well as benefiting from the opportunity to meet and discuss your business issues over lunch.
Tickets, including buffet lunch, are: £75 plus VAT: gdb Members, or £95 plus VAT: gdb non-members
To book your place(s) at the gdb Speakers Conference, please call Sally Brown on 01293 440088.
Target Business Expo
The Speakers Conference coincides with the launch of the Target Business Expo at the K2. Entrance to the main exhibition is free, although tickets are available in advance to save you time on the day. You could get a head start on your networking and book to attend the gdb Networking Breakfast from 8.15am. Once the doors open, you will have the opportunity to meet with over 100 Exhibitors and see new products and services ‘up close and personal.’ Take the opportunity to have a coffee in the networking cafe to discuss your requirements further.
Throughout the day, why not take advantage of the free seminars - full of information and advice, they are a must for any business professional. www.targetbusinessexpo.co.uk