In the week following US President Obama’s intervention on the decision confronting UK voters on 23 June, former European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta delivered keynotes at the UK in a Changing Europe’s External perspectives on UK membership of the EU – past, present and future, organized by UEA Professor and Fellow Hussein Kassim. Speaking free of the constraints of office, Mr Barroso, two-term President of the European Commission and
Prime Minister of Portugal between 2002 and 2004, outlined why the UK’s best interests would be served by remainin in the EU. To watch Mr Barroso’s keynote, click here.
Enrico Letta, Italy’s Prime Minister 2013-14, delivered a similar message. He argued that both the UK and the EU would be worse off in the case of a vote for Brexit. To watch Mr Letta’s keynote, click here.
The third keynote was presented by Mr Bernard Jenkin, MP for Harwich and North Essex, and a leading voice in the ‘Leave’ campaign. In a closely argued and detailed speech, Mr Jenkin set out why Brexit would be in the best interests of the UK. To watch Mr Jenkin’s keynote, click here.
The day began with presentations by Professor John Curtice, University of Strathclyde, and King’s College London’s Professor Anand Menon on public opinion and the terms of debate about the EU in the UK. BBC Radio 4 Today presenter Nick Robinson chaired this first panel.
The remaining three panels were organized on geographical lines. In the first, Brigid Laffan, Director of the Robert Schuman Centre, discussed the UK’s possible exit from the perspective of the UK’s nearest neighbour – the only country with which the UK shares a land border. Highlighting the close intertwining of the two economies, histories and cultures, Professor Laffan described the deep anxiety felt in Dublin. She also pointed to an English nationalism that, though rarely acknowledged, informs much opposition to the UK’s continued membership of the EU. To watch Professor Laffan’s intervention, please click here.
The second panel turned to continental Europe. Professor Christian Lequesne, Sciences Po Paris, compared the discussion in the UK with the debate in France and described the difficulties of the French government in addressing the issue. Professor Markus Jachtenfuchs observed that the German government is keen for the UK to remain in the EU, but that the migration crisis and managing the Eurozone were more central preoccupations. Dr Adriaan Schout from the Clingendael Institute in The Hague pointed to examples of poor diplomacy on the part of London, which reveal an important lack of sensitivity and respect for other governments.
In her intervention, Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska argued that the current ‘Law and Justice’ government in Poland sees the UK as an important political ally sharing a similarly state-centric vision of the EU and an important trade partner. For those reasons, it preferred to accept the UK requests that formed part of the February deal rather than defending the rights of its nationals, as EU citizens, to live and work in the UK.To watch the panel click here.
The third panel considered perspectives from Beijing, Ottawa and Washington. Writer, Jonathan Fenby’s assessment was blunt: China is concerned about power and the UK would be less powerful outside the EU. Margaret Macmillan, Oxford University Professor of History and Warden of St Antony’s College, delivered four clear messages: that no-one in Canada is talking much about the UK and the EU; that there is little sympathy with the UK’s difficulties in sharing sovereignty or its concerns about immigration; that there is no sense that if the UK were to decide to leave the EU that there is an Anglosphere ready and waiting to accept it; and that the Canadian model is not one to emulated.
Jeremy Shapiro, Research Director at European Council on Foreign Relations, noted that President Obama was articulating a strong and long-standing consensus in the US. President’s comments that the UK would have to join the back of the queue in signing a trade agreement in the event of Brexit reflected the fact that government’s only have limited capacity and that can usually only manage one set of trade negotiations at any one time rather than a threat to punish the UK. He also reminded the audience that US rhetoric about the special relationship is ultimately rooted in deeply practical considerations. This is as true of Obama as it was of FDR. To watch the panel click here.
Professor Hussein Kassim, senior fellow UK in a Changing Europe and conference convener, said: “Coverage of the UK’s EU membership has neglected the wider geopolitical context.
The conference addressed this gap by focusing on the foreign policy implications of the decision to remain or leave and the international consequences of that decision.”
The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative.