Peter Conradi is the Paris-based Europe editor of The Sunday Times, and he will try to make sense of what Brexit means for the UK and for those doing business on the continent at the PPMA Total Show. He will deliver his keynote speech, entitled: Forecasting the UK’s Political and Business Relationship from across the Channel, on Wednesday 2 October between 1pm - 1.40pm.
Here, we give a flavour of what he will say. Brexit will change Britain, but it will also have a huge impact on the European Union (EU), which is facing the most serious crisis in its history. The certainties that have driven the growth of the EU in the past few decades are in doubt and the mainstream parties of the centre right and centre left that have long run Europe look increasingly beleaguered.
A revolt against the concentration of powers in Brussels, of which Brexit was a part, has not been confined to Britain. It has been reflected in the growing influence of right-wing populists such as Matteo Salvini, the powerful deputy prime minister of Italy, who is spoiling for a fight with the EU, and a strong showing by the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party and by the Yellow Vest protests in France.
The phenomenon has been fuelled in large part by the anger of those “left behind” in small towns and villages, rebelling against what they see as decades of neglect by “urban elites”. There is a revolt in the air, too, among the former communist countries of Eastern Europe, whose booming economies are bringing a new assertiveness.
Young, urban voters, meanwhile, are turning to the Greens, which are topping opinion polls in Germany and made significant gains elsewhere in this June's elections to the European Parliament. Societies are becoming increasingly polarised. Russia is watching from the wings and making mischief. The German economy is slowing and dragging down its neighbours.
Matters are set to come to head this autumn as a new European Commission under Ursula von der Leyen, the former German defence minister, is installed — the same day Britain is due to leave the EU.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is heading for the exit after almost 15 years in power, but her successor is not clear. Could Europe’s biggest economy even be led by the Greens? It is only a matter of time before Salvini takes power in Italy. Meanwhile, Donald Trump and his threats of a trade war is adding to the uncertainties.