Brexit: We Asked 18 of the World's Leading Experts What Happens Next
A National Interest Symposium.
I am a Eurosceptic remainer. I believe in jurisdiction at the level of national government rather than a supranational body like the European Union. In particular, I regarded the behavior of “the Troika” towards Greece and other Southern Union countries after the financial crash as punitive and counterproductive.
That said, I voted “remain” because that position represented the rejection of closed, small-island, anti-immigration sentiment. Since the referendum, it has become abundantly clear that the decision to leave the EU is pretty disastrous from an economic and bureaucratic point of view. British politics should be concerning itself with the urgent priorities of inequality, corporate depredation, and climate change, but is instead mired in technical questions about the manner in which we are to extricate ourselves from Europe. At present, clear answers to these questions seem remote.
Intractable as these problems are, for me the most serious and damaging consequence of the EU referendum is the destruction of British democracy. One of the effects of the referendum has been to set up a conflict between two rival forms of democracy: direct and representative. This is in part a consequence of our lack of a written constitution.
“Brexiteers” and their tabloid newspaper supporters portray MPs who voted to remain, the House of Lords, and the judiciary as “enemies of the people.” The 27 percent of the population who voted for Brexit, by contrast, are portrayed as representing “the will of the people.” Using working-class voters as legitimation, right-wing, Eton-educated MPs like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg are concentrating power in the hands of the executive by embedding so-called Henry VIII powers in the EU Withdrawal Bill. In doing so, they are creating a “blank slate” Britain on which they can enact policies that will not benefit “ordinary people”—minimal regulation of business, eroded labor rights, and a shrunken welfare state. While Brexit is represented as embodying democracy, it is essentially anti-democratic, because it vilifies Parliament in favor of oligarchic majoritarianism.
Should there be a second referendum? The answer is probably yes, but we probably won’t get one. Absurdly, polling suggests a majority now accept the rational view that exiting the EU is a bad idea; yet even to call the remainer position “rational” provokes populist rage. Brexit was won with the help of disinformation and dark money, yet Britain appears unable to exit back through the looking-glass.
Erik Jones is the director of European and Eurasian Studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and author of The Year the European Crisis Ended.
Britain’s decision to leave the European Union revealed just how complicated it is for a country to extricate itself from a common market. Although many Britons worried about the implications of the free movement of people and they expressed frustration with the regulatory requirements for the free movement of goods and services, very few people on either side of the debate could imagine a formula to address that discontent without disrupting Britain’s economic relationship with the European Union across all dimensions. Indeed, that formula remains elusive.
A strict sovereigntist approach jeopardizes the delicate political balance in Northern Ireland, the constitutional relationship between England and Scotland, and the complex pattern of distributed manufacturing across the United Kingdom. Such an approach also places enormous demands on British public officials to develop new technologies for the management of cross-border customs arrangements, to recreate regulatory and certification facilities across a range of products, and to renegotiate third-party relationships with major economies like the United States and China that will not add to the disruption of commerce between the UK and the rest of Europe.
Any approach that concedes authority to the European Union to manage customs, set regulatory standards, preside over dispute resolution, or compel budgetary contributions, would leave the original concerns raised in Britain’s popular referendum to leave the EU unaddressed. The economic and political implications of the sovereigntist approach might be mitigated, but a whole new raft of political concerns would be created.
Britain’s future relationship is more likely to involve some kind of concession than to hew toward a strict sovereigntist approach. The implications will be unsatisfactory in political terms, at least for those who voted to leave the EU, and yet still painful in economic terms. Both employment and investment are already leaving the country. The government will have to provide more services in terms of regulation, certification, and border controls, that will impose costs without generating added value (or tax revenues). A number of high-value industries will relocate to other jurisdictions, taking their tax revenues and employment along with them. Innovation will suffer as British universities work less intensively with their counterparts on the Continent. The combined result will not be disaster for the British economy, but it will dampen growth and future prosperity.
Philippe Legrain is a visiting senior fellow at the London School of Economics’ European Institute and author of European Spring: Why Our Economies and Politics are in a Mess—and How to Put Them Right.
Brexit is a disastrous blunder. It will disrupt Britain’s trade, harm its security and polarize its politics, making the UK—and to a lesser extent the EU-27—poorer, less safe and less stable. At a time when Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a growing threat, and Donald Trump seems intent on wrecking the postwar international order by starting trade wars, undermining NATO and encouraging far-right populism, it is a reckless act of self-harm.
But a majority of Britons voted in 2016 to leave the EU—and in a democracy where referendums are rare, that mistake is hard to correct.
There is certainly a strong democratic case for a referendum on the exit deal. Back in 2016 voters didn’t know what leaving the EU would entail. Many backed Leave for contradictory reasons. And the UK’s exit deal and future trading relationship with the EU are likely to be much worse than prominent “leave” campaigners such as Boris Johnson promised. So voters have a right to change their minds. Since MPs dare not make that judgment for voters, that would require a referendum.
It is conceivable that MPs, most of whom realize that Brexit is a disaster and among whom there is no majority for any feasible form of Brexit, will come to see a people’s vote as a solution to their conundrum. But for now, both Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn are opposed to one. And to stop Brexit, such a referendum would need to include the option to remain in the EU—either as a straight alternative to the exit deal or along with the third option of leaving without a deal—and be won.
In the absence of a majority in Parliament for any feasible deal with the EU that the government might strike, there is a growing fear that the UK might crash out without one. Three groups are playing a game of chicken: remainers who hope the prospect of no-deal chaos forces a second referendum, Labour MPs who hope this prompts a general election that their party wins, and hardline Conservative Brexiteers, who hope the UK will leave without the constraints of a deal.
My baseline scenario remains that the threat of no-deal chaos will ultimately lead the UK government to cave to all the EU’s demands and Parliament to approve the deal. But a no-deal Brexit, or none at all, cannot be ruled out.
J. Scott Marcus is a senior fellow at Bruegel and an independent consultant.
Nothing is firmly settled yet. There is still much to be negotiated and debated in Europe and the UK, but the most likely scenarios are either (1) an agreement based more or less on the UK White Paper, or (2) the UK crashes out in March 2019 with no agreement. Crashing out would cause serious problems and would be much worse than any likely agreement.
The UK will proportionally lose even more than the EU27 from exiting. Leave or remain is a judgment for the UK to make, but my view is that the UK would be far better off continuing as an EU Member State. Next best would be to become an EEA member like Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein. It could still be done—there is no defined procedure for the UK to reverse its Article 50 notification, but if they made the request it would probably work out somehow.
In principle, the British public should have the final say on the deal on whether the UK should in fact withdraw, and if so, on the form that the withdrawal should take. There are increasingly insistent calls in the UK for a second referendum on the withdrawal, but it is difficult to see how the schedule to March 2019 could accommodate this. The UK has run out of time. In any case, a new vote would not necessarily lead to greater clarity and might not lead to a different outcome.
In any scenario, the UK’s GDP will decline somewhat. Detailed impacts depend on the form of withdrawal that is taken, and on the specifics of the deal, but some things are certain: London’s centrality in global finance will decline. The UK will face serious challenges in filling certain jobs, such as for healthcare professionals. There will be many years of legal and regulatory uncertainty.