Brexit, 3 Months Later on

Brexit, 3 Months Later on
  • Good morning, Professor

    Since we last spoke about Brexit a lot has changed and a lot has changed (Prime Minister, cabinet, safety of European citizens in the UK, the weather) but no-one has yet pushed the big red button that will start the process of us leaving the EU. 

    It seems rather anticlimactic, and also somewhat farcical. The Guardian newspaper has a weekly Brexit roundup and the other broadsheets do report on the discussions in Europe (which mainly seem to be calls for us to hurry up and trigger Article 50). But the tabloids that were so desperate for us to vote leave have now largely gone quiet about the topic -- instead BrexPitt (Brad and Angelina splitting) has taken over the front pages. 

    So, do you think we will ever leave? 

    Yours, ever


  • Hi Rosa -- I'm wondering if even Theresa May's cabinet thinks we'll ever leave, despite the macho "Brexit means Brexit" sloganeering (well, macho by Downing Street standards). 

    The recent economic indicators are supposedly "good", but when you read the numbers it simply means that the effects have only been mildly bad as opposed to very bad.  You won't find a single economist or business leader saying we're now better off than we were -- nor that we are likely to become better off within any time-frame that anyone (aside from Nigel Farage and Mystic Meg) can foresee. 

    Even the best forecasts seem merely to be that we'll expend enormous time, energy, resources and risk great uncertainty simply to stay in place -- to stay where we were as a normal EU member.   That's hardly efficient, and gains nothing aside from some vacuously nationalist symbolism, which could end up proving costly indeed.

    The newly created "Brexit Minister" David Davis now tells us that all key negotiating points must be kept secret, with the debate made public only after Britain's official exit (under Article 50) is announced -- in other words, only when it doesn't matter any more. 

    So everything will depend on the one thing we'll know nothing about, namely, what's said in those negotiations.  There's some hope that the Germans will give the UK a good deal as they don't want Britain to leave, but there's a lot of doubt about how good even the best deal can be.  No one seems to think we can keep full access to the single market while regaining full control of the borders -- but who knows what that will all look like if and when these secret negotiations ever come to some kind of end (except, as I would prefer, for them being simply abandoned).


  • Hi Eric,

    Yes, the 'Brexit means Brexit' line is getting rather tiresome, although at least they hold a consistent -- if meaningless -- position. The only thing that makes me feel better about having Theresa May as Prime Minister is that I could live in a country where Donald Trump is a serious contender to lead the nation. She may have a shocking record on human rights and equality ( but she has not yet advocated deporting UK citizens based on their religion. Then again, she has not ruled out the possibility of deporting millions of EU nationals if or when Brexit happens.

    As an emigrant, how do you feel about the position of so many EU nationals who did not, or were unable to, take up UK citizenship? Things here have been pretty rough for those people, not just in terms of uncertainty for the future but also the racially-motivated violence that has risen significantly since the end of June. 

    But I digress... Back to what you have noted above -- it really is not good news at any level, no matter how well some politicians and parts of the media try to present the facts. 

    It is not just the UK being damaged. There have been reports of Brexit negatively impacting upon economies around Europe, which seems somewhat strange given that they look set to benefit from financial services companies relocating from London. Little wonder, then, that so many EU countries want us to get on with the process of leaving -- a little like the spouse who has heard for years that her partner wants to leave, and who then throws a suitcase at him and tells him to get packing. Which makes me wonder why anyone would give us a good deal?

    Regards from campus -- if I could upload a photograph of the splendid view from my windows I would do so.



  • From the old days of Thatcher demanding "her money back" well into the early years of this century, there were certainly times when continental Europhiles sympathetic to deep European integration would gladly have seen the back of Britain.  The UK was often resented for promoting solely the trade elements and resisting political union.  

    Nowadays I'm not so sure.  The model of a strongly unified Europe has (justifiably or not) fueled several of the nationalist backlashes we now see across the continent.  Most European leaders have scaled way, way back the grand visions, and grander rhetoric, of the pan-Europeanists of Jacques Delors's generation, in favour of something more modest, more pragmatic, and more adaptable to fiercer global competition.  Suddenly Britain looks like a welcome member. 

    So I don't think there's much hostility towards Britain nor any desire to impose particularly punitive terms on us.  The problem lies more with Europe's room for maneuver, which is not much greater than ours.   Brexiteers like Farage,  Johnson and ID Smith promised all sorts of Trump cards (pun intended), but in fact Britain doesn't have so many of those to play.  There's no way the EU can offer us full market access yet complete control over our borders, since other states would inevitably push for the same, which then destroys an essential element of the single European market, namely, the free movement of goods, services and people.  Imagine a US in which the 50 states regained full power over their borders -- it would be a weaker market.

    As to the immigrants -- again the Brexit nonsense appears.  Recall that in recent years we've had greater non-EU than EU inward migration yet relatively good employment levels (despite too much wage stagnation, which is another problem).  The day we no longer need immigrants will be the day the economy has descended so low that no one would want to come anyway, at least not with Germany or the Netherlands just next door.  And that day will hardly mark the Brexiters finest hour.


  • Do you think that the scaling back and often-incremental moves towards nationalism in other European states has increased since Brexit? In the days after the vote many of those countries wanted to summarily boot us out of The EU. That stance seems to have changed, and I wonder whether it is because they see the benefits of us remaining or rather that they are worried about their own populations demanding a referendum.

    The combination of the migration crisis, which is only a crisis because of how poorly managed it has been for years, and Brexit seems to have escalated the rising nationalism that took hold after the financial meltdown. It does not bode well for the future of the EU as a pseudo-federal Union. But perhaps something better might emerge or a new EU can be formed. 

    It does sound as though you do not think we will leave, or at least not on Brexit-means-Brexit terms. When we strolled (power walked) through Central London in August, you seemed rather less certain that we would not leave. What has happened to change your mind? And even if we don't leave, the status quo has been removed so what will happen next?


  • Good morning Rosa! 

    Raw nationalism has erupted on the continent for some years, with or without developments in the UK, even if Brexit has certainly fueled them.  Since the referendum, Marine LePen talks about almost nothing else. 

    On "the day after", some voices, notably that of President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, certainly sounded peeved, shouting things like "If you're going, then go quickly".  It was understandable, as many European leaders see the Union already in jeopardy.  They believe -- probably rightly -- that a protracted and unseemly Brexit would erode both political and economic confidence. 

    Pretty quickly, however, those tones muted, probably because of German pressure (and perhaps also through pressures by some of the East European states that, because of their own hefty nationalisms, remain cautious about Brussels-based centralisation).  The Germans have never been quite as uneasy about British exceptionalism as the French have been.  Many, including Merkel, believe that the UK can help to moderate some of the federalising and de-democratising tendencies in Brussels.   To be sure, most in Brussels remain mightily annoyed by Brexit, but it's likely that pragmatism will prevail over ideology, on the fear that botching Brexit risks destroying the EU as a whole.

    Recall that the House of Lords Constitution Committee said it would be “constitutionally inappropriate” and “set a disturbing precedent” for the Government to formally announce a leave under Article 50 without a parliamentary vote.  The Commons still appear decidedly anti-Brexit and it would indeed be extraordinary to decide such a momentous matter on the basis of a non-binding referendum. 

    So will Britain ultimately leave? I'm not sure it's going to end up a "yes" or a "no".  If David Davis's "secret negotiations" yield little joy, a lot will depend on how willing Theresa May is to wreck the country.  I wouldn't be suprised if the best they can manage is a face-saving -- and of course perfectly transparent -- fudge, whereby nothing really changes except for a few purely formal arrangements.  But with luck, they'll come to their senses and not even bother.

  • Eric, one of the great joys of engaging with you is that your interest in and understanding of the world, language skills, and intellectual abilities combine to provide holistic insights that are sorely lacking elsewhere. (No, I am not about to ask you for a favour -- for once I am being complimentary simply because it is the truth.)

    There are many points that I want to pick up on, and perhaps we will return to some of them later, but I shall start with your last paragraph...

    Many people in the UK voted to leave (only a few more than voted to remain, but still a large number nonetheless). Since that vote the lack of transparency has infuriated the Brexiteers as much as the rest of us. If we do not end up leaving, whether because the whole thing fizzles out or because a few minor changes are made to our current relationship with the EU, what will happen to those voices? Do we push them further into Marine LePen-style nationalism? We should remember that there are people from every walk of life who voted to leave. 

    The House of Lords committee point is also interesting. Of course, the referendum was not legally binding, but does that mean it can be ignored altogether? If so, why didn't we just ignore it from the moment that (call-me-Dave) Cameron fell on his sword? Or why did we even bother in the first place? 

    It is a glorious morning here, and I am tempted to go out for a walk while the sun is shining. Looking forward to reading your response when I return.



  • You're too kind with your compliments Rosa, particularly because you're now asking for predictions which I'm sure I can't offer, and I doubt anyone can. 

    One point is certain: no one in this debate has yet shown how Brexit will ensure a substantially (or even minimally) better economic performance than Britain can achieve as an EU member.  Queries to that effect are only ever answered with either (a) "solutions" already available to Britain within the EU (such as ample free trade outside Europe on terms that we would not be able to negotiate in a more advantageous way), or (b) high-blown rhetoric lacking any serious data.  

    Brexit promises no solution, then, to any of the Brexiteers' gripes (be they founded or unfounded).  Accordingly, regardless of what happens, they won't be satisfied.  If we really do break seriously from the EU, with the result of an economy at best the same and at worst seriously damaged, that will do nothing to help anyone, least of all those at the bottom.  The nationalism will just find some other bogeyman, some other conspiracy, as it always does.  

    As to the referendum, I don't see how Parliament voting to remain ignores public opinion any more than Parliament always (or indeed doesn't always) ignore it.  A non-binding referendum means: testing the mood and asking lawmakers to take something into account -- no less, but also no more.  If Brexiteers wanted a binding referendum, they should have fought for one, and should not introduce binding effect through the back door.  No?


  • Ah, but Prof, the nature of our relationship always has been me asking you for predictions because you do know the right answers. I would call you Mystic Egg, if I was not so scared of your scoldy reaction!

    So much of the Brexit debate across the media has been distilled into (a) economics and (b) nationalism. Do you think there are any other key factors in play? (My vote had little to do with either of those factors, but then again I do tend to march to the beat of my own drum too frequently.) 

    I agree that Brexit offers no solutions. But what does 'remain' offer? In universities, it is clear that we will be poorer (not just financially) if Article 50 is triggered. But who else will suffer other than the intelligensia and the financial services industry? Have we yet made the case -- culturally, politically, and in other ways -- for remaining in the European Union? We are struggling to do so, as are the Germans, the French, and the Italians, let alone the newer members in Eastern Europe. The economy and/or the threat of another Cold War are not sufficient to convince many people that it is worth their while to remain part of the EU. So, Oracle, what can we do?

    Yours, as ever


  • Well once again your egg turns out to be a bit of a rotten one because those kinds of predictions are hard to make.  In particular, such questions end up translating into very fundamental ones about core economic assumptions. 

    For mainstream economics (though many would say it has a lot to answer for) there's no way a population overall can become better off while general prosperity stagnates or declines.   It's not only the elites, then, who benefit from the EU, even if that's the (deliberately and shamelessly populist) "anti-establishment" line Brexiteers like to spout.  To the contrary, if some channels fail for elites, they tend to be the most resilient, best situated to find others. 

    By contrast, when overall prosperity declines, it's the people at the bottom who are hardest hit through rising unemployment, weakened mobility, and diminished real income caused by low-wage growth or sterling's reduced purchasing power -- and even if those are largely the people who, mostly out of sheer protest, had voted to leave. 

    I accept that, even if we remain and can resume the pre-referendum economic recovery, government will not be off the hook.  Thanks to austerity, employment figures had been mending but not wages, so a final defeat of Brexit will still leave problems and their accompanying griefs at the bottom.  Still, those woes will not be as bad as they would be if we did end up exiting. 

    So in a word: yes, the case is overwhelming to remain, not just on political grounds but also on economic grounds (after all, those grounds each influence each other).


  • Good evening, Eric

    Apologies for the delay in replying.

    I take your point about politics and economics being bound together. And we have seen across Europe that the recent rise in nationalism has its roots in the financial crisis, thus repeating a pattern from previous centuries. The tragedy in terms of many people who voted to leave is that in economic terms their lives will be poorer if we do Brexit. Many of the communities that voted overwhelmingly to leave are ones that were sustained, and improved, by EU funding. It is a little like that old saying about turkeys voting for Christmas, except I would never have believed that people would self-sabotage on such a large scale.

    The same type of protest vote has happened again today in relation to the Labour leadership election. People who despise austerity and Conservative policies have just voted for a man who cannot win a general election. So, we are now stuck in a Tory winter for the forseeable future.

    All of this leads me to wonder whether it is time to create a more nuanced, and stronger, version of democracy. The 'one man, one vote' system does not work.

    Hope you are having an enjoyable evening.