Francois Hollande and the House of Lords have given Brexit warnings – the Lords focused on immigration, the French President seemed rather sad and melancholy on the likely fate of post-Brexit UK. But there is an opportunity lurking in this Trump era, can the UK grab it?Let’s start with the French President. In an interview with the Guardian. He said: “The UK’s problem is this: it had thought that in leaving Europe it would tie up a strategic partnership with the US. But it now happens that the US is closing itself off from the world. The UK has made a bad choice at a bad moment. I regret that.”
And that in a nutshell is the problem. The UK, as it tries to make a mark in the brave new post-Brexit world, finds a world that is becoming more protectionist.
Mr Hollande also warned that the UK cannot leave the EU while keeping the perks relating to being a member.
Turning to their lordships, they have put together a new report. They focused on immigration. Mrs May has said that she wants to take a sector by sector approach – welcoming immigrants who will work in sectors where the UK needs them, but less welcoming of immigrants who do jobs that that Brits could do. But the House of Lords report said that such an approach would “fail to deliver a meaningful reduction in immigration, while also proving more onerous and costly for employers, prospective applicants and those charged with enforcement.”
Looking at the idea that Brits will be able to do the jobs that migrants are doing, the report said that this option is “simply not there.”
But here is the opportunity. President Trump has this protectionist agenda, but many parts of the world are very unhappy about this. China has even tried to present itself as the new protector of free trade.
But then, on Bloomberg TV, a leading politician said: “When there has been some signals to raise protectionism, especially from the US side, the rest of the world seems to be fighting back and saying that this is not our line, this is something which we don’t want,” he added: “This is music to our ears.”
So, the idea then is that in the Trump era, the rest of the world can pull together, and the imperative for non-US trade deals grows.
It’s a good idea, but there is a snag. The politician who said this was Jyrki Katainen, a vice president of the European Commission. He wants to see the EU go out and forge trade deals, creating a massive jump in global trade flows – ex US.
But where does this leave the UK?
The UK’s opportunity is to become a kind of Singapore of Europe – a free trade haven on the edge of Europe. But would such a strategy work in this era, when one option is that we see a rise in global protectionism, and another option is that the EU tries to fill the vacuum that Trump America may create?
And returning to Francois Hollande, he also repeated his view that the EU needs to come closer together, and reiterated his desire for a European army – not an idea that goes down well in Brexit Britain.
The next stage in this story is being played out in Holland and France right now, as elections approach.
In Holland, the opinion polls are suggesting that Geert Wilders, the leader of the Far Right Freedom Movement is losing ground – polls indicate that the party would pick up 25 seats in the 150 seat parliament – from 29 seats predicted a week ago. The party is still in a position to gain more seats than any other party, with the Liberals appearing set to win 24 seats, but few other parties are anxious to include Mr Wilders in a coalition government.
Meanwhile, in France the odds that Emmanuel Macron – who used to serve as Mr Hollande’s economic minister – will be the next French President, are improving.
Right now, it seems as if the populist movement is losing momentum in Europe – the rise of Trump in the US, and the horror with which this has been greeted in Europe, may have something to do with this.
Capital Economics recently looked at opinion polls across the EU looking at the desire for exit. The country where EU cynicism is highest is Italy, but even in this country almost 60 per cent want to remain in the EU, in every other country considered support for staying in the EU was greater than 65 per cent, and in most cases greater than 70 per cent.
Despite the Brexit narrative that if the UK leaves the EU, other countries will follow, right now, with the possible exception of Italy, this looks unlikely.