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This final chapter looks at the processes through which Brexit connects with the rest of the world. As the chapter shows (see Table 7.1), Britain will need to work through such issues as what Brexit means for its international power, security, trading relationships and its strategy for managing these. The idea of Britain embracing the wider world and leaving behind the EU was one put forward by a number of Eurosceptics. What that entails, as the chapter shows, is far from clear and Britain faces a number of choices as to what sort of player in the world it tries to be. Choices will also need to be made about the ways in which the UK and the EU will cooperate with one another on international matters. Both sides have expressed an interest in pushing forward on foreign, security and defence matters, but how to do so is far from clear. EU–UK cooperation will depend in large part on what a post-Brexit EU tries to do on its own in the foreign, security and defence fields. As the chapter explores, the EU’s efforts in these areas have in the past been limited by the UK’s unwillingness to fully engage. Will Britain’s withdrawal mean cooperation in these areas now advances more quickly? This will be shaped by how other powers, such as Russia and China, respond to an EU post Brexit. A great deal will also depend on the reaction of the US, not least under the leadership of President Trump. If Trump’s victory was, as he put it, ‘Brexit plus, plus, plus’ then does his election and Brexit herald a change in both Western politics, especially towards globalisation?
Brexit has triggered a series of processes in the UK, summarised in Table 5.1, that are not only about handling the UK’s exit from the EU. They are also about defining what sort of country the UK wants to be. The first and arguably most important process in the way the UK is handling Brexit surrounds defining the ‘Brexit narrative’. British politics since June 2016 has been largely about defining why the British people voted as they did and what they voted for when 51.9 per cent of them who voted backed Leave. Theresa May, who succeeded David Cameron as prime minister, has often tried to define the narrative, but as the chapter shows, this has been far from straightforward. If May has struggled to define the Brexit narrative then that is in part because she has struggled to find unity within her own government over what Brexit should mean. This has seen arguments and negotiations between ministers and with officials who are tasked with putting Brexit into action in an extremely wide range of policy areas. Whatever May and her government want Brexit to mean will depend on what Parliament approves, with a great deal of media and public attention placed on the processes by which this will happen and on whether these processes will involve proper scrutiny. That will depend on how the UK’s political parties respond, with each of them facing their own particular problems and opportunities in coming to terms with Brexit. The chapter then turns to negotiations and developments outside of Westminster, starting with the way in which Brexit is unfolding in the different parts of the UK.
As highlighted throughout, Brexit is not a single event, a single process, solely about Britain or the country’s departure from the EU, or something that will be over in a short period of time. To appreciate this better the conclusion returns to the 15 questions set out in the introduction, which look into the causes, consequences and meaning of Brexit.
As set out in Chapter Four, 51.9 per cent of Britons who voted backed Leave for a number of reasons. They were unconvinced by David Cameron’s renegotiation of the UK–EU relationship, not least over the question of immigration, an issue that motivated a large number of Leave voters. While many voters had concerns about the economic impact, these were insufficient to overcome the various (and sometimes contradictory) messages put out by the various Leave campaigns (whose leaders were also more effective at getting their message across than the Remain campaign’s leaders), a media environment dominated by Leave, and perceptions by many voters that the country was headed in the wrong direction not only in its membership of the EU, but also in socio-cultural and socio-economic ways.
As a result, is it possible to identify a single reason or a closely interconnected series of causes behind the vote for Leave? As discussed in Chapter Four the Leave vote was the outcome of a combination of factors connected to the effectiveness of the Leave campaigns, socio-cultural and socio-economic reasons, views of the incumbent government and the state of domestic UK politics, and the legacy of historically weak levels of support for membership of the EU.
This chapter looks at the second set of negotiations and processes outlined at the end of Chapter Four, which are taking place at the European level. They are summarised below in Table 6.1. They can be divided into two groups: those between the UK and the EU, and those within the remaining EU. UK–EU negotiators need to reach agreement over three deals: an exit deal, a deal over a transition arrangement, and a new post-Brexit EU–UK relationship. This chapter examines what options exist for each and sets out what the two sides have said they want. It also examines the way in which the remaining EU approaches the negotiations, especially in terms of how the 27 member states and EU institutions maintain their unity in the face of the UK. What Britain can expect from the EU in terms of an overall deal depends on what happens to the remaining EU, which is the focus of the second group of processes. The chapter examines arguments about how the balance of power within the remaining EU will shift, what this could mean for the unity and direction of the EU, and in turn what that might mean for Brexit. It could also, as the chapter then examines, have implications for the relationship between the EU and the rest of non-EU Europe, especially organisations such as the EEA and EFTA. Finally, there is the challenge of continuing with the EU’s daily business as a union of 28 member states, where one of those states is set to leave but in the meantime retains the same rights (excepting in some areas connected to the negotiations over its exit) as all the other member states.
An understanding of Brexit first requires an understanding of the organisation the UK is exiting from. This chapter briefly explains why the EU was founded, what its main institutions are, what it has developed into in terms of a political and economic union, and what it does. The chapter then turns to the history of Britain’s part in the EU. Relations have not always been smooth, with Britain being labelled an ‘awkward partner’ as a result of a number of factors, such as its late membership. At the same time the UK has played a constructive role, albeit more as a ‘quiet European’ than an openly enthusiastic one. This history of a two-faced approach towards the EU helps explain why in January 2013 Prime Minister David Cameron committed the Conservative Party to seeking a renegotiated UK–EU relationship that would then be put to the British people in an in/out referendum. As the chapter shows, his decision reflected the deeply divisive issue that Europe had become in both the Conservative Party and UK politics more broadly.
There are two deceptively simple questions to begin understanding Brexit: why was the EU founded and what does it do? Understanding why the EU exists makes it possible to understand why Britain joined and to appreciate the long history behind the tensions that have defined Britain’s relations with European integration and which were an important background factor in Brexit.
The EU is one of many overlapping organisations, institutions and networks that shape, facilitate and structure the politics, economics, society and security of Europe.
There has been a great deal of analysis into how the British people voted in the referendum of 23 June 2016. This chapter sets out some of the main points that can be put forward about how the British people voted. In particular, it highlights some of the key differences – in terms of identity, education, outlook, occupation and location – of Remain and Leave voters. Having identified how the British people voted, the chapter then looks at the various reasons given for why the British people voted as they did. It identifies eight main reasons why the Leave campaign prevailed. The chapter ends with a brief discussion of what happened next by outlining a series of Brexit processes – in the UK, Europe and internationally – that began to unfold and which are unpacked in the following chapters.
On Thursday 23 June 2016 British voters (who had not already voted by post) were faced with the ballot paper reproduced in Figure 4.1.
The result that emerged in the early hours of Friday morning and which was confirmed after several days of counting and recounting showed 17,410,742 had voted Leave while 16,141,241 had voted Remain. This was a victory for Leave of 51.9 per cent to 48.1 per cent. The difference was 1,269,501 votes, or just 3.9 per cent of those who voted. This was on a turnout of 72.2 per cent, which means the vote was decided by the votes of 2.7 per cent of the overall electorate (Electoral Commission 2016).
The results and subsequent polling analysis by psephologists and pollsters highlighted a range of patterns and links that show how people voted and give some indicators as to why.
The chapter reviews developments from January 2013 to the immediate outcome of the referendum result. It outlines why David Cameron committed the Conservative Party to a renegotiation to be followed by a referendum, paying particular attention to the divisions Europe had caused within the Conservative Party but also to the wider changes in UK politics and the EU that added to pressure for some form of vote. Having been able to form a Conservative majority government after winning the 2015 election, David Cameron set about seeking a renegotiated relationship. The chapter explores his efforts to do so, looking into why he sought a renegotiation, what he sought to secure and what was eventually agreed. As the chapter shows, the renegotiation was not easy, but Cameron felt it would play an important part in securing the future of UK–EU relations and winning a referendum. Finally, the chapter turns to the EU referendum itself. Over several sections, the chapter looks at how the campaign unfolded, how the different campaigning groups were structured and what arguments each side put forward as the British prepared to vote in only their third ever nationwide referendum.
On 23 January 2013 David Cameron delivered a speech at the London headquarters of Bloomberg (Cameron 2015). He extolled the connections between the UK and Europe, noting that Britain’s history was not only one of an island story but also one deeply connected to the rest of Europe. He pointed to the tensions that had long been present, and identified some of the causes such as differing political systems, contrasting historical experiences, a changing EU and public unease at immigration levels.
Brexit is the most important and controversial topic in modern British politics. It confronts the UK with a series of questions and debates about its identity, society, political economy, trade, security, international position, constitution, legal system, sovereignty, unity, party politics and the attitudes and values that define it. While questions and debates about these topics took place before the vote to leave the EU, the referendum’s debate and result have brought them together in a way that could make Brexit a rare turning point that profoundly transforms Britain. Brexit, however, is not a single event or process or entirely about Britain. It is a series of overlapping processes and debates taking place at and involving multiple actors in Britain, the remaining EU, the rest of Europe, and around the world. It is its wide-ranging nature and complexity that makes Brexit one of the most important and difficult political issues to define and analyse.
To introduce you to Brexit this book is divided into eight chapters. This first chapter looks at what Brexit is and how to study it. There are many ways to define and examine Brexit. Indeed, it is never out of the news in the UK and often a topic of discussion elsewhere. How then is it possible to define and study something that can touch on so many issues and is in a constant state of flux?
Chapter Two looks at UK–EU relations before the referendum. This chapter looks at the history of Britain’s relations with European integration and also sets out some basic details about why the EU was founded and how it has evolved.
Understanding Brexit provides a concise introduction to the past, present and future of one of the most important and controversial topics in modern British politics. Written for both those familiar with the topic and those new to it, the book sets out in a clear and accessible way many of the fundamentals for understanding why Britain voted to leave the European Union and what happens next.
30 Jul 2018
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