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Taking Brexit Seriously

Posted on 16/09/2016

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The implications of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union came under the spotlight this week at King’s College London.

Taking ‘Brexit’ Seriously: A Dialogue, hosted by Yeoh Tiong Lay Centre for Politics, Philosophy & Law, was chaired by the Centre’s Director, Professor John Tasioulas. The event generated a constructive dialogue on two broad and inter-connected questions that arise in the wake of the vote for Brexit: First, what are the requirements - legal and other - that must be satisfied in order to give proper effect to the vote to leave the European Union? Second, to the extent that there is room for manoeuvre in negotiations, which ‘version’ of Brexit would secure the best political and economic outcomes for the United Kingdom, and for Europe?

Distinguished members of the academia, the legislature as well as the corporate world were called upon to provide their expert views. Professor Takis Tridimas (The Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s) characterised Brexit as the most important constitutional event in British history after 1660. His presentation focused on the foundations of Article 50 Treaty on European Union, the legal basis and starting-point of Brexit as well as the constitutional implications of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. He argued that the Brexit notification is not irrevocable under the EU Treaties and that it is hard to imagine how Brexit will be realised without the British Parliament’s involvement.

Professor Richard Ekins (Faculty of Law, University of Oxford) discussed, among others, whether the UK should aim to become a member of the European Economic Area (EEA). He concluded that for the British individuals who voted in favour of Brexit it makes little sense to pursue this option, since the issues of concern would remain unaffected. Professor Ekins also argued that an Act of Parliament is not necessary to achieve the UK’s withdrawal, a matter which is expected to be determined by the Supreme Court in the coming weeks.

Lord Norton of Louth (Professor Philip Norton, Department of Politics, University of Hull) took the view that Article 50 Treaty on European Union is silent on the possibility of revoking the government’s forthcoming notification of UK’s withdrawal. He also noted that one should separate the question whether Parliament is required to be involved in the Brexit process from the question whether Parliament should in fact approve it. In any event, in Professor Norton’s view, the legitimacy of the Brexit referendum cannot be put into question and he observed that the statute governing the terms of the referendum provided for no requirement to succeed a qualified majority.

Approaching Brexit from a historical perspective, Professor Vernon Bogdanor stated that we could not recall another event in British history where the people have reduced to some extent the sovereignty of Parliament. He discussed the possible options for future cooperation between UK and EU. He concluded that the UK’s current main obligations regarding migration, its contribution to the EU budget, and its subjection to the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction, namely the ones that dominated the Brexit debate, would remain unaltered under the Swiss or Norwegian model is adopted. In terms of the UK’s position in the Brexit negotiations, Professor Bogdanor said ‘If you resign from the club and then ask to play tennis as a full member you may get a dusty answer’

Dr Helen Thompson’s (Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge) presentation addressed the political economy background to Brexit. She argued that the UK’s membership in the EU but not in the Eurozone was not a sustainable scheme in the long term, particularly in the aftermath of the euro crisis. Moreover, she contended that the UK’s flexibility in achieving macroeconomic adjustments is an important comparative advantage which would likely put pressure on the EU to make the post-Brexit life of the UK difficult. Discussing Brexit’s implications, Dr Thompson concluded that this will seem like 'a walk in the park' compared to the challenges that the Eurozone will face in the next two years.

Ms Helena Morrissey presented a perspective on Brexit grounded in her experience as CEO of Newton Investment Management. She contended that Brexit will have limited adverse effects on the UK economy, noting that 6% of UK firms trade with the EU but 100% of them are bound to comply with EU rules.  She further noted that, in contrast to initial assumptions, the UK now appears turning towards some form of trade agreement with the EU rather than attempting a temporary freedom of movement model. Following their presentations, the panellists took questions from a lively capacity audience.

Report by PhD Researcher Napoleon Xanthoulis.

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