Brexit is an abbreviation for "British exit," which refers to the decision of the UK to leave European Union (UK). The decision to leave the EU was put to a referendum on June 23, 2016 by the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, which resulted in a 52% to 48% majority for those who called for the UK to leave the EU.
The UK had joined the European Economic Community in 1973, and later became the founding member of European Union in 1992. The entry of the UK had always generated opposition from a section of the political spectrum in the country. It was earlier opposed by the left wing parties followed by the Eurosceptic parties like UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) and later propagated by a section of Conservative party.
After a lot of false starts, the UK Parliament ratified Brexit which specified that the UK will leave the EU on 31 January 2020. An eleven month long transition period was also specified to enable the UK and EU to negotiate their future relationship. During this transition period the UK will remain subject to EU law, remain part of the EU customs union, and single market, but no longer be part of the EU's political bodies or institutions.
The loss of the UK, the largest non-eurozone member of the EU means that the focus shifts towards the eurozone members but more importantly it leaves a 75 billion euro deficit in the EU’s budget and raises questions regarding its future direction. In the absence of the UK, it would be challenging for the EU to continue its commitment towards fiscal responsibility, free trade and enlargement of the block.
A 2019 report from New Financial Aid cited that Britain’s exit from the EU would mean the bloc losing its biggest financial centre, London. It also mentioned that many business hubs and financial organizations had started opening hubs in the EU to cope with Brexit.
As per New Financial Britain accounted for almost one-third of the entire capital market activity of the EU, which is more than France and Germany combined. The report had suggested that France and Germany would have a “duopoly” in most major financial sectors post UK’s exit, with France being the dominant in most of the sectors.
The two biggest economies of post-Brexit EU, France and Germany have taken different public postures on Brexit. The president of France, Emmanuel Macron has termed Brexit as a blessing in disguise for France and an opportunity for “European renaissance.” His German counterpart, Angela Merkel has however, chosen to remain silent on the issue.
France has taken an aggressive stance on attracting business away from the UK ever since the 2016 referendum in the UK was won by the leavers in the UK. France under president Macron has rejigged its tax system and reformed its labour laws to create a more business-friendly environment.
Paris had also initiated a poster campaign with the slogan “Tired of the fog? Try the frogs!” in a bid to drive financial investments from London in the wake of the Brexit developments in late 2016. Officials from Paris had also assured stability to the British businesses citing that Paris would be the only global city left in Europe after the exit of Britain.
Arnaud de Bresson, managing director of Paris Europlace, the organization responsible for promoting the financial sector in France points out that Paris is well ahead of its competitors in the EU-27 bloc with nearly 180,000 employees in the financial sector. The next best figures are from Frankfurt with 70,000 workers from the financial sector as per the report by the organization. Brexit has resulted in nearly 80 to 100 financial businesses from London relocating nearly 4000 jobs to Paris, and as per de Bresson this process is “likely to accelerate”.
The French Economy Minister, Bruno Le maire had said in February 2020 that Paris would become the leading financial centre in Europe in the wake of Brexit. He even went ahead to say that the French economy “must take advantage of Brexit”. However, his statements are not exactly accurate. The UK still remains the undisputed leader in the financial sector with 250,000 employees and 7% contribution to its GDP.
French senator Christian Cambon who serves as the co-chair of the Senate Brexit Committee had warned in 2019 that Brexit could have adverse impacts on a few sectors of France’s economy. "Our farmers, our fishermen, our businesses, and the regions of Normandy and Haute France. It will have consequences for all these areas and for the whole of the EU, it could even give other members some ideas. That’s why we want to follow the process step by step while abiding by the competences of the Senate." French fishing industry members have had concerns over being denied access to British waters post Brexit, considering that 75% of fishing taking place in Haute France is in British territorial waters.
However, President Macron remains as optimistic as ever regarding Brexit’s impact on the nation’s economy and has been actively promoting his nation via a series of reforms to attract businesses and investments. He also launched the 'Choose France' package which provides financial help and English-language support to UK based businesses that want to move to France.
The short-term projections are pointing to be somewhat in favour of France, it remains to be seen if Brexit will have a positive impact on the nation’s economy in the longer run or the UK will have the last laugh.