BRUSSELS: Britain’s exit (Brexit) from European Union is about to shake the influence of the former empire on its erstwhile colonies while also denting Pakistan’s position in Europe as most of the supporters of Pakistan in EU parliament hail from the United Kingdom. The phenomenon is also likely to jeopardise the precious Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) status, which makes Pakistan earn billions of euros per annum through light duty exports to European states and also makes EU the biggest business market for the country. This economic relief was provided to Pakistan in exchange for improving human rights and democracy situation. However, a number of EU countries and officials had raised concerns over Pakistan authorities’ poor implementation on core conventions under the scheme. Former European Economic and Social Committee president Henri Malosse had recently criticised Pakistan authorities over degrading rights situation in the country and their failure to fulfil GSP+ obligations. Malosse wrote in an opinion piece that granting of GSP+ was conditional on the ratification, compliance and “effective implementation” of 27 core conventions covering areas of human rights, labour rights, religious freedoms and gender equality. He further stated that since its entry into force in 2012, concerns about Pakistan’s compliance with the core conventions had been raised by EU member states and civil society. A number of textile producing EU states such as Portugal have also been reported showing reservations on granting any non-EU country special benefits in terms of Customs duties because that was challenging their textile production and sales. Government of former UK prime minister David Cameron progressively advocated for granting Pakistan GSP+ status and Members of European Parliament (MEP) from Britain mainly those known as ‘Friends of Pakistan’ played a vital role in convincing EU that the country was doing well in terms of both economic and human development. The statistics reveal that around three-quarters of all EU imports from GSP+ programme hail from Pakistan, making South Asian country the biggest beneficiary of the scheme. Almost 82 percent EU purchases are textiles and clothing products, which serve as the back bone of Pakistan’s textile industry. British MEP from Green Party and Chair of Delegation for Relations with Countries of South Asia Jean Lambert told Daily Times that Brexit phenomenon had already started to detriment UK’s ties with other countries. “I think Brexit is already straining the UK’s relationship with some South Asian countries. Why? There are many Brexit supporters who seem to think we can turn back the clock to 1972, before the UK joined the EU: that is obviously not the case as the world is a very different place and the balance of power is not the same. The British approach regarding future trade deals has made assumptions based on the Commonwealth relationship which, of course, carries distinct colonial tones. I understand this has not gone down well in some capitals,” Lambert explained. She further added that a number of South Asian countries have their own trading relationships with the EU, which offers a larger market than the UK alone. While it is true that the UK may currently be the largest market (for textiles, for example), the hope is that there will be a significant move in to the rest of the EU. “Indeed, some of our EU Delegations (embassies) are working to grow trade in both directions. The UK will not be able to use these channels,” the British MEP asserted. She added that she was aware that there was some concern as to which countries might ‘champion’ countries of South Asia in the EU in future. “The UK’s history does mean that Britain has a closer understanding of, and relationship with, many of these countries.” MEP Jean Lambert also mentioned that UK was trying to do what they could to assure that country’s decision to exit EU should not hurt the countries, which enjoyed closer ties with Britain. “So, ambassadors are working hard to find new contacts and friends within the EU, with some success. Many of us from the UK are doing what we can to help with that as we don’t see why the UK’s misjudgement should penalise the future of countries with which we have such strong relationships,” MEP Lambert concluded. Another MEP of Britain’s Conservative Party, Baroness Nosheena Mobarik, told Daily Times that ‘Friends of Pakistan’ were doing whatever they could to support the case of Pakistan in EU. “I recently took a delegation to Pakistan from the ECR Group at the European Parliament for these very reasons. It is important to have a support base for Pakistan once the UK leaves the EU,” Mobarik explicated. Pakistan Embassy spokesperson in Brussels Syeda Sultana Rizvi told Daily Times that Pakistan was already aware of the issues arising from Brexit. She said that although the MEPs from Britain played a vital role in relaying the voice of Pakistan across EU, the country also enjoyed amicable support of MEPs from other EU nations. She said that Pakistan has strong trade and cultural relations with Britain yet the Pakistani diplomats in EU were already preparing to adapt the post-Brexit EU just like other countries while situation would be more clear with arrival of new MEPs after EU elections during the next year. Syeda also said that Pakistan was aware of upcoming challenges and the embassy was progressively busy in new engagements as well as extensive back channel diplomatic work, all of which could not be revealed to the press due to the sensitivity of the matter. Published in Daily Times, October 9th 2018.