Brexit — the proposed withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (UK) — raises important challenges for Canadian foreign policy: Will Canada-UK and Canada-EU relations post-Brexit be complementary, or will two competing transatlantic relationships emerge? How will economic ties develop should the UK, Canada’s closest trading partner in Europe, leave the EU’s single market and customs union? How will established forms of policy cooperation — on issues ranging from security to energy relations — change if the UK is no longer an EU member? Will Canada’s political and cultural links to the UK, which for many Canadians are core to the country’s identity, be strengthened or weakened?

This project maps how Canadian policy-makers and their European partners deal with these challenges. Focusing on economic, security, environmental/energy and political ties across the Atlantic, it studies “history in the making” by tracking how Canada’s relationship to Europe — both to the EU and to the UK — changes over a four-year period, from 2019 until 2023. The project also examines how Brexit interacts with other challenges to the transatlantic relationship, such as the United States’ receding support for multilateral institutions.

The project is based on an integrated analytical framework that conceptualizes Canada’s multilayered linkages with European partners as a transatlantic policy network. The policy network approach makes it possible to identify the actors, interactions, institutions and policy outcomes of Canada-Europe relations, describe their change over time, and assess the impact of Brexit as a trigger (among others) of these changes. The project applies a set of methodological tools on a repetitive basis, to track how the Canada-Europe relationship is reconfigured. It draws on a series of interviews with policy practitioners, which are analyzed with a view to changes in both the structures/processes and the narratives of the transatlantic policy network. We also examine relevant policy documents and statistics, and conduct a media and public opinion analysis to map changes in Canadian perceptions of Europe.

Project results will inform scholarly debates about Canadian foreign policy, European politics and transatlantic relations. Project results are also communicated to non-academic audiences through a variety of tools, including an annual newsletter, social media posts and policy workshops. These provide an opportunity for policy makers and the general public to reflect on the challenges posed by Brexit, the responses that have emerged, and potential alternatives. The project thus enriches public discourse about the changing role of Europe as a reference point for Canadian policy and identity.