As Brexit talks continue today in a last-ditch effort to seek an agreement, the minister-president of Flanders has warned of the dire consequences of failure.
Speaking this morning on VRT radio’s De Ochtend programme, Jan Jambon (N-VA) said a failure to reach a deal could mean the loss of as many as 28,000 jobs in Flanders.
The United Kingdom will leave the European Union definitively on 1 January 2021. If that happens without a new trade agreement between the two partners, the economic consequences will be grave for both sides.
Belgium will pay a heavy price for no deal, and Flanders in particular. The region is responsible for the lion’s share of Belgian exports to the UK, and a large part of that market could be lost if World Trade Organisation tariffs are applied in less than a month’s time.
“These are crucial negotiations,” Jambon said. “If no deal can be reached, Flanders will be hit hard. It has been calculated that 28,000 jobs will be lost, in various sectors. That is a terrible toll.”
Brexit would have been a severe blow at any time, but coming on top of the coronavirus crisis, it will be catastrophic, he said.
Europe has a contingency fund of €5 billion standing by to help soften the blow of Brexit, but it remains to be seen how the damage will be spread among the various sectors, before it can be determined how that support can be shared out.
Flanders has its own support fund to help industry, for example in developing new replacement markets.
“But this year, our budget is already blood-red due to the corona crisis,” he said. “Fortunately, it is not a structural deficit, although it does weigh on the debt. So we will definitely have to review the budget again, when the corona is over, to work that deficit away.”
One of the main sticking points in the negotiations between London and Brussels is fisheries, which affects Flanders deeply. If there is no Brexit deal, the UK is expected to abandon existing fishing agreements and take back British waters, leaving fishermen from France, Spain and Belgium in the cold.
“Fishing in British waters is important for Belgian fishermen,” said Emiel Brouckaert of the fishing industry federation Rederscentrale. “Fifty percent of our business is done in UK waters.”
If that scope for fishing were to be lost, it could mean the end for the already-dwindling Belgian fishing industry. The outcome of the negotiations is therefore important for the fishermen.
“There is still a lot of uncertainty, and it will only increase the closer we get to January 1,” Brouckaert said. “We hope that there will be more clarity soon, because of course fish do not know the boundaries between the territorial waters.”