The ambassador visited Aarhus University on Tuesday to give his view on the Brexit negotiation process to a student global politics society.
Schroeder, who took up his post two months after the referendum in 2016, was keen to present Brexit in a positive light.
Despite conceding that it is ‘possible’ to take a pessimistic view of Britain’s future outside the EU, the ambassador advocated for the “wonderful opportunities for the UK in this brave new Brexit world.”
I have just met with students from @AarhusUni for a talk on “Brexit & Bridging.” What a likable and intelligent crowd. Thank you for all your interesting and challenging questions! #UKandDK #EducationisGREAT pic.twitter.com/iPThbdrGg3
— Dominic Schroeder (@UKAmbassadorDK) November 27, 2018
He outlined his support for Theresa May’s draft withdrawal agreement, arguing that it affords the UK more control over spending, laws, and the country’s borders.
The prime minister will “invest everything” in persuading the House of Commons to vote through the deal on December 11th, he said. While admitting that the leadup to the vote will be tough, Schroeder maintained that this will be far from the biggest challenge of May’s career.
When asked about the possibility of another referendum, Schroeder rejected the idea because of the time it would take to organise, as well as the difficulty of wording the question. He also spoke of the “deep divisions” the first referendum exposed in British society, warning that a second referendum would “cement and deepen” those divisions.
Britain must choose this deal, he argued, as the alternative would be “pretty chaotic.”
Despite emphasising the benefits of Theresa May’s deal, Schroeder also praised the European Union as an organisation.
“It is to misunderstand what it is the UK has done with Brexit,” he said, “if people say, as they persist in saying to me and my colleagues, that what we are trying to do through our departure from the EU is to bring about the end of the EU. The truth could not be more diametrically opposed to that. It is in our strategic interests that we have a strong, united, values-based European Union.”
The ambassador admitted that with such a positive description of the EU, some might ask why the UK was choosing to leave.
“The answer is in a sense impossible to give,” he said.
One student expressed confusion at the “disconnect” between Schroeder’s praise of the EU as an institution and his support for the move to leave it. He replied that as a civil servant his only choice is to follow the policy of the current UK government.
“We deal with life as we find it,” he said, maintaining that he would not classify himself as “pro-EU.”
“It is in the strategic interests of the UK that there should be a strong, functioning and prosperous EU,” he continued.
“That is not a point about whether or not I’m pro-EU or anti-EU, it’s a statement of where we are.”
When asked if he believed Denmark should follow the UK’s example and vote to leave the EU, Schroeder emphasised the difference between the two countries.
“There is a qualitative and a quantitative difference between the country that I’ve described – 65 million-strong market, G7, G20, permanent member of the UN Security Council, all our scale and our size, and our ability to cope – or indeed not to cope – with a Brexit, as opposed to a country of 5.6 million people so closely linked into the German and Swedish markets in particular,” he said.
“I don’t think you’re comparing like with like.”
Schroeder also fielded questions about a proposed European army, to which his response was that the defence of Europe should be based on NATO, and about the future relationship between Denmark and the UK.
In his view, Brexit will not weaken this relationship, bolstered by investment, trade, and joint military activity.
As the Q&A session drew to a close, the ambassador declared with a smile that he would enjoy a return visit after the UK Parliament vote on May’s deal in mid-December.
“What a likeable and intelligent crowd. Thank you for all your interesting and challenging questions,” he later wrote on Twitter.