Today, the United Kingdom (UK) will finally quit the European Union (EU) after years of lingering controversy over the exit.
An 11-month transition period has been initiated within which the two sides are expected to negotiate their future economic relationship.
The development, some Nigerians believe, will open opportunities for better African ties with Britain.
A professor of International Law and Jurisprudence, Akin Oyebode, said the exit would make Britain seek new friends in Africa and other Commonwealth countries, while also solidifying its relationship with old friends like the Unites States.
“It is a new day for Britain, Europe and the rest of the world. Africa can expect to prosper from the unfolding scenario. Britain should be seeking to make new friends and solidify old relationships, especially the U.S. and, to some extent, Nigeria and Africa. However, it is yet morning on creation day. So, we should keep our fingers crossed and await developments,” Oyebode said.
A professor of History and Strategic Studies, Ayodele Olukoju, called on the Federal Government, especially the ministers of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Niyi Adebayo; Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; and Justice Abubakar Malami as well as other relevant government agencies, to quickly put heads together and think on how Nigeria can take advantage of the exit of Britain from the EU.
According to him, the exit might have some disadvantages to Nigeria because unlike before when the country only needed to sign one agreement with EU, now it would have to sign separate pacts with countries.
Olukoju, however, said the advantages would far outweigh the disadvantages “in the sense that Nigeria can now weigh its interest appropriately between Britain and other EU countries should it have anything to do in terms of foreign relationships and economy.”
For instance, Olukoju said, Nigeria should do away with sentiment in relating with the UK in the belief that it was once its colonial masters “whereas Britain has never treated Nigeria with such respect as France has been doing to all the African nations that it colonized. This development would open our country to various options with other EU nations other than Britain. We must as a nation at this time redefine our relationship without sentiment since we would be open to several alternatives and opportunities other EU nations can provide.”
He urged the ministries involved to start taking a critical look at the situation with the use of experts, and consider Nigeria’s interest first. “For instance, I am of the opinion that the issue of visa should be renegotiated with Britain now with the view that Nigerians seeking UK visa must not be treated with disdain anymore.”
The Nigerian London Business Forum urged Abuja and London to seize the momentum to consider the establishment of a credible Commonwealth market which will serve the very purpose that made the UK to join the EU in the first instance, and discourage a situation that made Britain to opt out.
“It is a serious oversight on the part of the UK to have ignored the development of a unified trade, investment and business market for the Commonwealth member nations, just as it is a show of weak diplomatic engagement on the part of the Commonwealth member nations for not being able to canvass greater economic integration of the nations,” the forum said through its country director, Prof. Chris Onalo.
“As a trade and investment promotion and advocacy organization, the Nigerian London Business Forum is convinced that Britain will gain more; Commonwealth member nations will gain more when a resilient Commonwealth market is established.”
The European Parliament announced the exit following the backing of the terms of the UK’s departure on Wednesday. Members of the European Parliament (MEP) ratified the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement by 621 votes to 49 following an emotional debate in Brussels. After the vote, MEPs marked the UK’s exit by singing Auld Lang Syne.
Several British MEPs said they hoped the UK would return one day.
Ratification of the withdrawal agreement, agreed by the UK and EU in October, was not in doubt after it easily cleared its committee stage last week.
Signing the letter confirming the EU’s consent, the parliament’s president, David Sassoli, said the two sides must heed the words of the late Labour MP Jo Cox when approaching their future relationship and recognise “there is more that unites us than divides us.”
“ You are leaving the EU but you will always be part of Europe…It is very hard to say goodbye. That is why, like my colleagues, I will say arrivederci.”
Wednesday’s session saw those on either side of the Brexit debate, including the UK’s 73 MEPs, celebrate or lament the end of British EU membership.
Some MEPs marked the occasion with songs – others wore “always united” scarves.
The parliament’s Brexit spokesman, Guy Verhofstadt, said it was “sad to see a country leaving, that has twice given its blood to liberate Europe”.
He added that the British MEPs had brought “wit, charm, and intelligence” as well as stubbornness”, and would be missed.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said ratification of the withdrawal deal was “only a first step” towards a new partnership between the EU and the UK.
The two should “join forces” in areas such as climate change, she said, and seek a close partnership following the exit.
The EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, also wished the UK well, saying the bloc would approach talks on the future relationship with “patience” and “objectivity” while defending its members’ interests.
On the other side, though, Conservative MEP and prominent Eurosceptic, Daniel Hannan, said opinion in Britain turned against the bloc when it became clear “the aspiration was to have the EU as a quasi-state.”