Brexit: The Day After - held 20 April 2016, Westminster
(Please note that the second event in the series will take place on Wednesday 27 April. Register now at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/brexit-the-day-after-the-day-after-constitutional-implications-for-england-scotland-and-the-union-tickets-24083170411)
On Wednesday 20 April, the Forum on Geopolitics (www.coggs.polis.cam.ac.uk) held an event at Westminster exploring the likely consequences of a 'Brexit' - specifically in terms of the consequences for Britain's relationship the EU, other allies, and the balance of power. This event was kindly hosted by Ben Gummer MP and chaired by Simon Heffer.
Our speakers considered what might come next for Britain and Europe - whether Brexit would isolate Britain, fracture the United Kingdom, cause further instability on mainland Europe, embolden an expansionist Russia, invite further terrorist attacks, and generally shatter Europe's best hope for the future; or whether it would liberate the British and other Europeans to realise their potential free of the shackles of Brussels.
The speakers were:
- Kate Hoey MP
- Peter Hitchens
- Tristram Hunt MP
- Nicholas Soames MP
- Bronwen Maddox
- Bernard Jenkin MP
- Stephan Shakespeare (CEO of YouGov, presenting polling data commissioned for this event)
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS DRAWN BY FORUM ON GEOPOLITICS
(Please note that this summary represents the views of the Forum regarding the key points of the debate, rather than those of the speakers)
It is clear from the debate and from the new polling material that politicians and the public are seeing the in/out debate too narrowly in terms of what leaving or remaining would mean for Britain. Most seem to believe two contradictory things at the same time, namely that
(a) leaving the EU will not have a negative impact on the rump EU, or affect levels of integration, and that
(b) a British departure would greatly increase the likelihood of other exits, and thus the chances of total disintegration.
It may be, therefore, that the debate is missing a key aspect, which is - whether Britain is 'in' or 'out' - the question of what sort of continental European order is good for Britain and what sort of impact the decision in June will have on it.
What was striking about the polling material produced, and most of the discussion, was that very few people have taken into account the likely impact of a Brexit on the rest of Europe. To the extent that people engaged with this question, some 'leavers' thought Brexit would lead to a 'liberation' of other European countries from the shackles of Brussels. Yet some 'remainers' argued that a British exit would encourage disintegrative tendencies, such as the French National Front and Jobbik in Hungary. Polling data suggests that a majority of voters believe that other countries will only leave the EU in the next ten years if Britain goes first.
Concern was raised by some 'remainers' regarding Britain's relationship with the United States in the event of 'Brexit', and questioned Britain's future status as leading power and the implications this would have for national security and for the promotion of democracy. A 'Brexit' would, it was argued, be 'a gift' to some prominent adversarial forces.
Some on the 'leave' side felt however that Britain's importance on the international stage was more influenced by NATO than EU membership, and emphasised our various allies' self-interest in urging us to stay in the EU; Britain should, they felt, regain its dignity by charting an independent course.
The conversation also considered Britain's subsequent interactions with the EU and Eurozone. The 'leave' side argued an impassioned case for Britain's inherent importance to Europe, regardless of EU membership, and cited the German car industry to make the case that surely the EU member states would see it in their interests to provide Britain with a comfortable exit followed by a role of special influence, privilege and market access, but with no responsibility within the future bloc.
The 'remainers' argued that this was baseless fantasy, unsupported by any such indications from the EU member states, and that the very uncertainty about the progress of the negotiations - including the possibility that it would be a new leader of the Conservative Party who would lead those negotiations - meant that embarking on this course was taking overwhelming risk with a slim probability of proportionate reward.
Most of the focus of the conversation, therefore, was on the effect of 'Brexit' on Britain. This included some consideration of the effects on party and parliamentary politics, and on the Union with Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Much of this discussion emphasised the economic consequences - positive and negative - for Britain, with little concern for any economic impact on the EU, the Eurozone or the global economy. It was striking to note that to the extent that numbers were cited by either side, there was fundamental disagreement on their accuracy and relevance. This absence of hard data, and vagueness and imprecision regarding specific impacts on various components of British trade, and on the actual financial value Britain contributes to and receives from the EU on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis, is - the 'remainers' argued - the very reason why risk outweighs reward. They argued against allowing abstract nationalism to impoverish the country and weaken its status.
Some 'Leavers' argued however that the heart of the matter is not economics or value, but British dignity and democratic independence.
We would like to thank our speakers once again for leading a lively and thought-provoking discussion.
The second of this two-event series will take place on Wednesday 27 April from 5-7pm at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.
Details can be found here: http://www.coggs.polis.cam.ac.uk/events/after-brexit-2