Dr. Harold Clarke opens the discussion at the Tower Center Student Forum event, “A Brexit Discussion” Oct. 7.
The UK’s decision to leave the European Union has come to the forefront of foreign policy discussions across the world. In the Tower Center Student Forum’s most recent event, A Brexit Discussion, scholars Dr. Harold Clarke of the University of Texas at Dallas and Dr. Lorinc Redei of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, shared opinions regarding the outcome of upcoming UK/EU negotiations and the precedent set by Brexit. Clarke provided an analysis of politics and public opinion leading to Brexit, while Redei examined Brexit from the EU’s perspective.
Dr. Harold Clarke: The politics and public opinion leading to Brexit
This has been a long time coming. A third of voters voted to leave the EU in 1975. While Euroscepticism was a minority view, it still had a presence in UK politics. Such sentiment was only furthered by the Maastricht Treaty of 1990 which expanded the EU outside of free trade and made it a political project. As a reaction to the increasing integration of Europe and the increasing prominence of Euroscepticism, the UK Independence Party (UKIP), a right-wing populist party, was founded in 1993. Ultimately UKIP became the formal movement Brexit needed to be successful.
Clarke said that there has always been a great deal of volatility in public opinion. Brexit wasn’t just about demographic division or regular voting lines; partisan cues were far weaker in this vote. From 2010 to June 22nd, 2016, this battle was closely fought. Just two days prior to the vote Remain had a two point lead, but still “the world ended” June 24. Leave was not a nationwide consensus. UGOV polling showed that while Wales and England had a majority leave vote, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. The youth population and the upper-class elites both voted to remain as well; surprisingly, there was no gender difference.
Clarke stressed the fact that Brexit was the result of short-term forces. Both Remain and Leave ran largely negative campaigns. From the Remain camp, also referred to as “Project Fear”, rhetoric focused on the costs of leaving rather than the benefits of staying. Former Prime Minister David Cameron relied heavily on the influence of others’ intimidation. From President Barack Obama to the Prime Minister of Sweden to David Beckham, the Remain campaign used famous faces to convey a daunting message – leaving the EU would be tremendously costly. Similarly, the Leave campaign’s success relied on the population’s perception of risk. By disseminating fear that the UK would drown in immigrants, lose its sovereignty, democracy, and culture, proponents of leaving the EU played off the emotions of voters. Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP and the Leave campaign, and Boris Johnson played a pivotal role in Leave’s victory. While Farage has a negative or “rough” reputation, Johnson is extremely popular. His massive influence led to the phrase, “No Boris, No Brexit.”
In the wake of Brexit, the media and elites trashed the electorate and shamed the majority of voters for their choice. Many have said that Brexit was the result of poor voter turnout and that it isn’t representative of the full electorate’s opinion. Yet for all the criticism of the voters, Clarke stated that Brexit is the result of weak partisan cues and strong short-term forces.
Dr. Lorinc Redei: Brexit from the EU perspective
Brexit is a clash of politics not economics. According to Redei, it is about sovereignty and controlling borders. The UK only has two options in the upcoming proceedings: (1) They can stay in the single market and accept the free movement of people, or (2) they can stay in only with “one little toe.” The first option would be politically worse and leave the UK no role in the decision-making processes of the EU. The second option wouldn’t be much better as it would come at tremendous economic cost to the UK. No matter what comes of the upcoming UK/EU talks, the UK government will be very unpopular at home.
From the EU side
The rest of the EU hates the United Kingdom. Major EU problems such as the Greek financial crisis, the immigration crisis, and youth unemployment, will be swept under the rug for the next two years while the EU negotiates with the UK. As a result, the EU will drive a hard bargain. Three factors the UK needs to keep in mind during negotiations: (1) the EU holds the cards, (2) the EU will resist giving the UK any kind of special deal in order to prevent other member states from demanding the same, and (3) the result will showcase the benefits versus costs of leaving the EU. With so much negativity surrounding Brexit (the pound is now at a 30-year low against the dollar), this is a perfect opportunity for the EU to discourage other member states from withdrawing.
Despite the upper hand of the EU, Redei said that a hard Brexit will cause fallout in the long term. The first repercussion is Brexit will usher in a trend of European disintegration. Aside from Greenland, this is the first real geographic reduction to the EU in an otherwise upward trend of increasing integration. There’s no precedent for the transference of policy from the EU back to the member states, but now, because of Brexit, states will consider the renationalization of policies. Already, the UK has sparked repatriation in other European states, as seen in Hungary with both their referendum on asylum and their hard border with Serbia.
The second repercussion is the unpreventable portrayal of Brexit as the UK verses the EU, with the EU as the monster, “trampling on good ole’ Brits.” It’s already causing a strong wave of anti-Europeanism. In light of both of these, Brexit will likely come at a great cost not only to the UK, but also to the entire European Union.
Listen to “A Brexit Discussion”:
Claire Huitt is a senior at Southern Methodist University triple majoring in public policy, economics, and political science with a focus on international relations and the Asian Pacific. She is a Bauer Scholar in Political Science, Hamilton Scholar, Engaged Learning Fellow, a representative of IGNITE Women in Politics, Chair on Asian Pacific Relations with the Tower Center Student Forum, Dedman School of Law Pre-Law Scholar, New Century Scholar, and a member of the University Honors Program. After graduation Claire intends to attend law school and pursue a career in international law and foreign affairs.