Trade and Investment News 2024: The Convention; the Elgin Marbles; Foreign Languages and Jacques Delors

Brexit and the Hague Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters 2019 (“the Convention”)

 On 23rd November 2023, the UK Government published the outcome of its consultation on whether the UK should become a party to the Convention and confirmed that the UK would sign the Convention as a party as soon as possible. The UK Government further reported that ratification would take place as soon as possible once all  the necessary domestic implementing legislation and rules had been put in place and that the Convention would enter into force for the UK 12 months after the UK deposited its instrument of ratification.

Reportedly, the Government has identified from its consultation that joining the Convention would include the following benefits from the UK perspective:-

  • Providing uniform rules for the recognition and enforcement of judgments between the UK and other contracting states;
  • Providing greater legal certainty that judgments from UK courts would be recognised and enforced in other contracting states. This could help promote the UK as a preferred dispute resolution forum;
  • Allowing parties to agree non-exclusive or asymmetric jurisdiction clauses ( which are excluded from the scope of the 2005 Hague Choice of Court Convention) in the knowledge that judgments from courts chosen by these clauses will be enforceable; and
  • Providing a firm base for the recognition and enforcement of judgments between the UK and EU member states now that the Recast Brussels Regulation (1215/2012) and other EU instruments no longer apply in the UK. This is particularly important as the EU has not so far approved the UK’s application to re-join the Lugano Convention.

An interesting development!

Brexit and Greece

On 27th November 2023,  The Times reported on yet another round of discussions  that was due to take place between the UK and Greek Governments over whether the “Elgin Marbles” should remain in the British Museum or be transferred back to Greece. However, by the 28th November 2023, this news had been superseded  by the less happy news, if accurate, that the UK Prime Minster, Rishi Sunak MP , had abruptly cancelled his scheduled meeting with his Greek counterpart, in a row over pre-meeting publicity. Up to that point, a possible loan agreement had been thought to be in the offing whereby the famous artefacts could be physically sent back to Greece for display but this is now even more up in the air. Deep questions of national identity and international culture may lie at the heart of this debate but we shall have to see what happens.

Meanwhile, it would be timely to examine the trade and investment profile between the two countries – between Greece which came close to “Grexiting” from the EU at the time of its profound financial crisis in and  around 2015 and the UK which for different reasons did actually “Brexit” the EU in 2020. All this in the light of a love affair that the British  have long had with Greece as the cradle of European  civilisation, an affection which many Greeks appear warmly to reciprocate. As Lord Byron observed ( although he could not have been thinking of “Grexit” at the time), when exhibiting his own love for Greece:-

“…The mountains look on Marathon-

And Marathon looks on the sea;

And musing there an hour alone,

I dream’d that Greece might still be free.”

According to a regular factsheet published on 17th November 2023 by the UK’s Department for Business & Trade (DBT), the total trade in goods and services ( exports plus imports) between the UK and Greece was £11.5 billion in the four quarters to the end of Quarter 2 (Q2) 2023, an increase of 38.8% or £3.2 billion in current prices from the four quarters to the end of Q2 2022. Of this £11.5 billion:

  • Total UK exports to Greece amounted to £3.7 billion in the four quarters to the end of Q2 2023 ( an increase of 32.8% or £916 million in current prices, compared to the four quarters to the end of  Q2 2022); and
  • Total UK imports from Greece amounted to £7.8 billion in the four quarters to the end of Q2 2023 ( an increase of 41.8% or £2.3 billion in current prices, compared to the four quarters to the end of Q2 2022).

The DBT factsheet also showed that Greece was the UK’s 27th largest trading partner in the four quarters to the end of Q2 2023, accounting for 0.6% of total UK trade.

According to the factsheet, in 2021 the outward stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) from the UK in Greece was £1.8 billion , accounting for 0.1% of the total UK outward investment stock – the inward stock of FDI in the UK from Greece for the same period was, however, not available “due to data disclosure”.

An interesting picture, which hopefully bodes well for the future!

Brexit and Foreign Languages

 On 4th December 2023, The Times devoted a page of articles to the decline of foreign language studies in the UK.

According to The Times, less than 10% of English 15-year-olds can speak a second language, compared with an average of 42% across 14 European countries.

A Comment article by Rachel Sylvester ( who was chairwoman of The Times Education Commission) says that “the slump dates back to 2004 when the Blair government scrapped the requirement for all pupils to take a language up to GCSE. Brexit has made it harder to recruit language teachers from the EU and the pandemic has affected foreign exchange programmes…”.  The  article refers to a study for the former Department for Business, Innovation and Skills which apparently found that deficient language schools were costing the economy the equivalent of 3.5% of GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) by limiting potential exports. There are also national security implications , according to Stephen Evans, a former Nato assistant secretary -general quoted in the article.

A leader in The Times on the same day concludes: “It is no longer a boon for this country [the UK] that English is the global language of commerce and culture; the proficiency of more than a billion people worldwide in speaking it as a second language makes it an unexceptional attribute. Young people would gain much from the ability to speak an additional language, and the education system should be geared to help them to gain it.”                                                                                                                                                                Challenging times!

Brexit and Jacques Delors

 Jacques Delors, one of the architects of the EU, the single market and the euro, died on 27th December 2023, aged 98. He became President of the European Commission in 1985 and by the time that he stepped down in 1995, he had ( amongst other things) helped push through the EU’s Single European Act in 1986, which introduced majority voting on many matters ( reducing the ability of nation states to use blocking national vetoes in their votes), the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 ( which changed the European Community’s name to the European Union and took forward the process of EU integration) and a reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.

Delors’ objective was to promote EU integration and in that regard his relationship with the UK and  in particular with Mrs Thatcher and then John Major (the UK Prime Ministers during his time as EU Commission President) was somewhat combative. The Sun newspaper joined in the combat with its famous headline “Up yours Delors” , accompanied by the picture of its two-fingered salute.

The Times obituary of M. Delors on 28th December 2023 ended by noting that “of his legacy, namely the euro and his longing for a United States of Europe even at the cost of Brexit, he had this to say: “I am like Gramsci [the Marxist philosopher]. I have pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”

In relation to the UK, M. Delors appeared to recognise in 2012, well before the UK’s Brexit referendum in 2016, that the UK was an increasingly reluctant member of the EU and reportedly suggested instead that the UK should become a “privileged partner” of the EU ( whether outside the EU altogether or as part of an outer ring of less- committed States)  , “strategically and economically important” but, according to an article in The Times on 29th December 2023 (by columnist , Patrick Maguire), no longer the ghost in the machine of ever-closer union – better to be constructive from the outside, opting in to collaboration, than to be disruptive , opting out from within ( with similar views apparently being held by former German finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble, who died in the same week as M. Delors).  According to The Times article, M Delors’ thoughts in 2012 on the UK’s future relationship with the EU may well align with some of the UK Labour Party’s ideas on the same subject, which may be put to the test should that party win the next UK General Election.

  1. Delors was perhaps a special kind of intellectual pragmatist deeply embedded in a French tradition of significant political thinkers, which may have appealed to some people but not others, but he was always a high achiever who clearly stamped his mark on the European Union.