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Foreign Minister: Brexit a "loss" and "a day of sorrow"

Pekka Haavisto said that it's still possible to end up with a no-deal Brexit if a new EU-UK relationship is not defined.

Pekka Haavisto
Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto. Image: Yle

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto has described the UK’s departure from the European Union as a loss for Finland.

"Our relationship will never be as close as it has been. In that respect it is a day of sorrow," Haavisto said during an Yle Brexit special on Saturday.

"Britain has been an important partner in trade and in terms of our culture of upholding rules. We have had many similar views about the development of the EU," he added.

Although the UK has finally taken the first step in its divorce from a 47-year partnership with the EU, it still faces a challenging year in which it will have to re-negotiate its relationship with the regional bloc.

If there is no continuation of the transition period, it will have to negotiate a new trade agreement and resolve a number of open issues covering topics such as information exchange, aviation, and medicine inspections.

Haavisto said that the Finnish government is hoping for rapid progress in these talks.

"We may still end up with a no-deal Brexit, in other words after 11 months it may be that no agreement is reached. Trade would come to a halt and freedom of movement would be fettered. No one wants this," the minister declared.

"Trade negotiators say that we would need three to five years. Hopefully we will be able to settle key issues, but there is a great risk that in one year there will once more be a sense of crisis because everything would not have been settled,” Haavisto cautioned.

France and Germany to wield more influence

Haavisto said that Britain’s departure will increase the importance of France and Germany in the EU. He speculated that Brexit will be reflected in the bloc’s foreign and security policy in many ways.

He pointed out that because of its colonial past, Britain has very close relations with many countries in Asia and Africa.

"It is clear that because of France, Francophone Africa will become more important to the European Union and perhaps Latin America as well, because Spain will highlight it more," he predicted.

UK to align with the EU or the USA

The minister said it is possible that Britain’s global influence could grow because it can decide whether or not to align with the United States or with the EU.

He noted however that Brits will no longer sit around tables where EU member states can ponder weighty issues. "They will also lose some influence there," he added.

The former Greens chair said he hopes that the EU and Britain will continue to cooperate closely on difficult issues such as Iran and China. The EU has been criticised for its impotence as tensions ratcheted up between Iran and the US recently.

"The United States has a very tough approach with respect to Iran and China. The EU has been looking for a line that would maintain dialogue rather than unnecessarily creating an adversarial image. Britain can be a player that will either work with the EU or side with the US," Haavisto explained.

All the same, the minister said he does not believe that cooperation among Germany, France and the UK will continue with regard to Iran.

Challenges for EU sanctions policy

There are also fears that Brexit could undermine EU sanctions policies that have been used against Russia, for example, following its annexation of Crimea in 2014. At the time the UK played a major role in enforcing the sanctions.

Haavisto admitted that EU sanctions policy is not necessarily as powerful a political tool today as it had been in the past.

Further complicating the issue is the fact that the EU will now have to coordinate not only with the USA on such issues, but also with the UK, Haavisto noted.

"But there will always be common interests shared by the EU, the US and Britain, regardless of our differences on trade and freedom of movement."

"Of course there is a high risk that we will end up on different paths," Haavisto concluded.

You can listen to our All Points North podcast on the rupture that is Brexit and its implications for people moving between Finland and the UK via this embedded player, as well as on Yle Areena, Spotify and iTunes or via your normal pod player using the RSS feed.

Audio: Yle News

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