London, United Kingdom – With a trade deal reached after years of difficult negotiations, Britain’s exit from the EU’s economic and political orbit is imminent.
Much has been said about the evolution of UK-EU relations, but experts say the historic divorce could have an impact on other critical areas of foreign policy as well – including trade and commerce. security in the Middle East.
Jonathan Hill, director of King’s College London’s Institute of Middle Eastern Studies and professor of international relations, said Brexit would change the practicalities of everyday commerce, with immediate effect.
“The import-export regime will develop and change,” he said. “Companies [based in the Middle East] will have to comply with specific UK standards and they will have to adapt as the rules will change slightly, especially if they are exporting to Northern Ireland and supply routes through mainland Europe.
There could also be a divergence in the UK in sectors such as agriculture, where strict EU regulations are currently in place.
“There could be a recalibration of trade and the UK could take a different and more relaxed approach to these agricultural products,” he said. “You could see more Tunisian tomatoes and Moroccan spinach in the UK than before. This could be a new market opening for these countries. “
But more generally, the United Kingdom may also seek to refine its relations with certain countries in the region.
“UK-Gulf ties will not diminish,” said Gilbert Achcar, professor of development studies and international relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.
“The UK will try to maintain this special relationship. He was the lord of these monarchies and he strives to maintain his influence, alongside the United States, in order to maintain privileged access to these markets, which are huge buyers of arms and invest a lot of capital. in the financial markets.
According to Achcar, a decision by the British government in November to cut foreign aid and increase defense spending could be part of an aggressive London effort to sell arms to Gulf countries.
“The UK is a major arms supplier to the Saudis and, in some ways, a key contributor to the war in Yemen,” he said. “After Brexit, he can’t wait to sell more of them.”
At the same time, the role of the EU in countries with which the UK has historical ties may be reduced.
“It can be argued that the EU will no longer have the influence of the UK in the Gulf States and in countries like Jordan,” Hill said.
Britain’s withdrawal, he added, which has one of the highest military capabilities in Europe, could see EU countries like Germany and France adopt a less interventionist strategy in the Middle-East.
“Europe will be able to pay less attention,” he said. “You have already seen European governments supporting stability rather than democratization.”
But he added that despite Brexit, there is likely to be a “broad alignment” between the UK’s diplomatic policy towards the MENA region and that of EU member states.
“The promotion of democracy, human rights and good governance are common goals,” he said. However, it is “by virtue of shared interests rather than something more deliberate”.
Instead, Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the November US presidential election is seen as a potentially bigger event than Brexit.
“If Brexit had been completed in a re-election of Trump, the possibility that the UK would find itself alone again from the rest of Europe would certainly have been higher,” Achar said.
“But with the Biden administration, it’s less likely. The United States will be more inclined to work with the EU than the Trump administration would have done.
“ British foreign policy has not always been indebted to Brussels ”
For some observers, the UK’s decision to support the Iraq war in 2003 is a prime example of its policies closely aligned with that of the US.
But, they say, the current circumstances could lead to closer coordination with Europe.
“UK foreign policy has not always been indebted to Brussels,” said Mohamed El Dahshan, associate member of Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa program.
“Either the UK has done its own thing, or has turned more to Washington than to Brussels. Iraq’s enduring nightmare is a lasting example. But the new US administration is more likely to coordinate with the EU. Paradoxically, this could bring the UK’s foreign policy closer to that of the EU.
This combination of Brexit and Biden’s election could have other consequences, such as triggering a new wave of talks in areas of the previous political stalemate.
Przemysław Osiewicz, associate professor at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland, specializing in EU policy towards the MENA region, said Brexit could lead to further negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal and new conversations on Palestine and Israel.
“Perhaps we will see new bilateral negotiations thanks to the efforts of the Americans and the British,” he said. “Trump was extremely pro-Israel, but it was the best recipe for the failure of bilateral negotiations. Now things could open. The UK has already pushed for special trade deals with Iran to bypass US sanctions and recognize Palestine.
But for Turkey, which on Tuesday signed a free trade agreement along with the UK, Brexit could signal that Ankara’s bid for EU membership is waning – especially in the face of growing tensions between Turkey and France.
“The UK was one of the biggest supporters of Turkey’s membership,” Osiewicz said. “From now on, the Turkish side will be much weaker in the EU. Turkey’s membership is much lower. “
Osiewicz added that Brexit could lead to reduced humanitarian aid in the Middle East.
“The EU is the largest donor of humanitarian aid in the MENA region,” he said.
“In the past, the UK was a big contributor. The EU may seek to focus on rebuilding its own economies after the pandemic. This could have serious consequences for countries like Yemen or Syria, and the millions of refugees in Turkey and Lebanon. “
The recent merger by the UK of the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development makes this outcome even more likely.
“Suppressing the identity of DFID is a terrible idea,” said Dashan.
“The department was a world leader in development. The nature of UK relations with these countries will inevitably change because of this and not for the better. “