Europe has so many fish to fry that getting its attention will be difficult, Neil told CIPS guests ©LeoWilkinson
Europe has so many fish to fry that getting its attention will be difficult, Neil told CIPS guests ©LeoWilkinson

'Negotiations will begin and nothing will happen'

9 March 2017

The outcome of Brexit rests on a string of upcoming European elections, political journalist Andrew Neil told procurement professionals.  

Neil predicted that Article 50 would be invoked as early as next week, triggering the official start of the UK’s exit negotiations, but that talks wouldn’t begin in earnest until after a number of major European elections.

Brexit could become a “sideshow” for the EU, he said, if some of the right wing contenders come into power. 

Speaking at the CIPS annual dinner, at 8 Northumberland Avenue in London on Wednesday night, Neil said: “The negotiations will begin, and absolutely nothing will happen.

“Nothing will happen because Europe has got so many elections, and until Europe decides who’s going to be the next prime minister of Holland, the next president of France and the next chancellor of Germany… until they decide that we won’t know who we’re going to be negotiating with.” 

In an otherwise light-hearted speech – the former Sunday Times editor turned BBC host said: “At one stage it looked as if the only story to come out of [yesterday’s] budget would be that the chancellor, who we call Spreadsheet Phil, managed to crack five jokes” ­– Neil took a serious tone when warning that a string of elections could plunge Europe into a crisis that would eclipse Brexit.

“If you think Brexit was a disruptive affair in Britain, and Mr Trump was a disruptive affair in America, think what’s happening to France,” he said.

“If Madam Le Pen [leader of the far right and anti EU party Le Front National] was to win the French presidential election, that would be an existential threat to Europe. The European Union could do without Britain, it can not do with out France and Brexit would become a sideshow as Europe would have to deal with this crisis,” he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s position is not guaranteed in the German parliamentary elections later this year, and in the Netherlands the populist Partij Voor de Vrijheid (Freedom Party) looks set to become the largest party in parliament.

Europe has “so many other fish to fry, so many problems queuing up, so many elections that could go the wrong way in the sense that it will cause a crisis and uncertainty, that even getting Europe’s attention now is going to be very, very difficult for us,” said Neil.

“As someone who was brought up largely on British and American politics, I’m spending more time with European politics than ever, because it has become more vital to our future.” 

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