Making social science accessible

23 Dec 2016

UK-EU Relations

The six months since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union have been the most tumultuous in British politics since the Second World War, according to a new report: Brexit: Six months on.

Within a day of the vote, the prime minister had resigned and Scottish independence was back on the agenda; within a week, the leader of the Opposition faced a leadership challenge and the leader of UKIP stepped down; within a month, the UK had a new Prime Minister. Dr Simon Usherwood concludes: “While none of these alone is unprecedented, there has been no moment in the post-War period when so much has happened almost at once.”

The report, by the senior fellows and director of The UK in a Changing Europe, and in collaboration with the Political Studies Association, looks at the key political, economic, legal, social and security changes that have occurred since 23 June as well as at how other EU countries view Brexit.

Professor Matthew Goodwin highlights how Brexit has exposed a deep and widening divide in the Labour Party. It faces tensions between its working-class, struggling, northern, eurosceptic and anti-immigration seats (70% of Labour seats voted Brexit) and its more middle class, financially secure, southern, pro-EU and cosmopolitan constituencies.

Findings from the report reveal a combination of massive shock and inertia in the British Government. There has been a major reorganisation of Whitehall, which has seen the creation of new ministries and the marginalisation of the Treasury and Foreign Office. Yet, Dr Usherwood notes: “The government seems to have articulated little more than a series of unrelated and mutually conflicting aspirations, which highlights the absence of a game-plan.”

The report highlights how Brexit has united the EU27 to a degree rarely seen before. EU member states believe the British Government is working opportunistically with only UK interests in mind and little consideration for wider European issues and priorities. Support for the UK has declined significantly, as even Denmark, the UK’s ‘little brother’, which usually follows in its footsteps, has made clear that any concessions that do not benefit Copenhagen will be rejected. Sara Hagemann concludes: “The UK Government can take the tone and position of this small and likeminded ally as a signal of what is ahead when actual negotiations begin during 2017.”

Dr Angus Armstrong deciphers the government’s preferred trading relationship with the EU and finds the evidence suggests that:

  • The UK will no longer be a member of the single market and (probably) not the customs union.
  • Goods will be covered by a Free Trade Agreement or a low tariff schedule. The UK requires as broad an agreement on services as possible
  • The UK will also seek to continue to participate in a number of EU programmes, for which EU membership is not required, like Horizon 2020 or Erasmus
  • The prime minister seems to have ruled out the ECJ, but not the EFTA Court
  • The UK would sweeten this deal with continuing payments to the EU budget and preferential access for EU workers to the UK labour market.

On immigration, Jonathan Portes argues that the evidence suggests:

  • It will be fully under UK Government control
  • Policies will be relatively restrictive, resulting in a large fall in EU migration as well as continued downward pressure on non-EU migration

The UK will probably retain some degree of preference for EU nationals compared to non-EU nationals

  • There may be some sector-specific schemes.

Anand Menon, director of The UK in a Changing Europe, said: “This report takes stock of the decision on 23 June for the UK to leave the EU. What is striking is that, six months on, we are little closer to knowing what Brexit actually means.

“Having said that Brexit has precipitated fundamental shifts in British politics. It has also brought up significant questions, which still remain unanswered, about Britain’s future laws and its foreign and immigration policies as well as the nations’ relationship within the United Kingdom.”

Click here to read the full report.


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