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The Brexit Blog

Analysing UK-EU relations

European thinking on its British Question

Welcome to the Brexit Blog. This blog is not simply about British debates over the UK’s future in the EU. It is more about what Britain’s debate, attempted renegotiation, referendum and the outcome of that referendum could mean for the rest of Europe. As a start I’ve compiled below an overview of the literature that exists on what the ‘British question’ could mean for the rest of Europe. NB: You will find literature published after 11 June 2015 added to the end of this blog post. 

The Conservative party’s victory in the May 2015 UK general election leaves the EU facing its British question sooner than many were expecting. It also means the EU faces an issue that only a few have given much in-depth thought about. This is not to say the idea of a British renegotiation, referendum and exit have not been hot topics of discussion for some time. They have been much discussed over dinners in Brussels or coffees in Berlin, Paris and elsewhere. There has also been a range of short pieces in the media, blogs and comments by politicians, sometimes at a series of events in the UK and elsewhere held to discuss the subject. The governments of some other EU member states, along with allies such as the USA, have undertaken private discussions and analysis.

Detailed publicly available analysis, on the other hand, has been more limited. This is especially so when compared to the plethora of research about what a Brexit or renegotiation might mean for the UK (the House of Commons Library has produced a short bibliography of the literature and its own review of the potential policy implications of a Brexit). Talk about what a Brexit might mean for the EU and people soon shift discussion to what it might mean for the UK. Undoubtedly the consequences for the UK would be far greater. But the question of what it might mean for the EU still stands.

This does not mean there has been no detailed analysis on which to prepare for the forthcoming negotiations and referendum. There exists a range of English language reports and papers that specifically analyse the EU’s position vis-à-vis the UK. There also exist a range of sources (often shorter than full reports, but more focused on specific issues) that provide broader insights. Further reports will emerge over the course of the renegotiation and referendum. Taking into account the EU’s perspective will also be of direct interest to the UK. Deadlock and failure will come from the UK failing to appreciate what is and is not in the interests of the EU and therefore what is a plausible relationship for Britain either as a member of the EU or for UK-EU relations if the UK leaves.

  • The DGAP’s September 2014 report – ‘The UK and the EU: what would a Brexit mean for the EU and other states around the world’ – which I edited with Almut Möller, is made up of 26 views of a Brexit written by people from research institutions and universities from sixteen EU member states (France, Germany, Poland, Ireland, Slovenia, Austria, Romania, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands) nine non-EU countries (Canada, USA, China, Norway, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand, Japan, Singapore and Brazil), and a view from the EU’s institutions in Brussels. It provides the most wide-ranging overview of how a variety of EU and non-EU countries might respond to the UK’s demands for reform or exit from the EU.
  • In December 2013, Open Europe ran the first ever simulation – a war-game – of a UK-EU renegotiation followed by a negotiation over a UK exit. The online archive contains videos and a final report of the day’s proceedings. Open Europe have also written extensively on what the impact of a Brexit might be for the UK, with some of this analysis touching on possible implications for the rest of the EU.
  • In September 2014, Deutsche Bank published a 20 page report analyzing the possible implications of a Brexit, especially economic ones, for the EU. A similar but shorter 8 page report was published by the Bertlesmann Foundation in April 2015.
  • The legal side of a Brexit has been covered by a range of authors writing on how a member state might withdraw from the EU. See here for a report by Phoebus Athanassiou for the ECB examining the legal side to a withdrawal with attention in particular on Greece. Adam Lazowski of Westminster University has written in academic journals on the legal side of the UK exiting the EU, and has a forthcoming book on the topic. The UK and Article 50 is also examined in a blog piece by Steve Peers. Phedon Nicolaides 2013 article for the Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law also considers the effects of Article 50 on a withdrawing state. In April 2014 Clifford Chance undertook a legal review of the implications of a Brexit for the UK and EU financial sectors.
  • In July 2013 the House of Commons Library produced a lengthy research paper examining how the UK might leave the EU, examining issues such as procedures and some passing analysis of possible implications for the EU, although the report’s focus is largely on the UK.
  • The potential consequences for the EU have also been covered in some of the UK’s pro-withdrawal literature. Admittedly a great deal of the literature gives scant thought to the issue. They are more interested in what end Britain should seek in leaving the EU, meaning they can overlook analysing the ways and means by which to secure this, something only possible if the EU’s likely positions are also taken into account. Nevertheless they do offer some interesting insights. The IEA’s 2014 €100,000 Brexit prize produced a series of proposals. The winner by Iain Mansfield can be found here with a wider-ranging report by the IEA here. There also exist other proposals – to name but a few – such as Richard North’s proposal for a ‘Flexit’, David Campbell-Bannerman MEP’s ‘Time to Jump’, Dan Hannan MEP’s proposals (for the Centre for Policy Studies), proposals from Fresh Start, the Mayor of London, and Civitas, (click here for a second 2015 Civitas report and here for a report by them on the potential impact on the UK and EU car industries).
  • The UK has also been the source of numerous proposals for how to reform the EU. Especially notable here is the work of the CER with its many reports. Its director, Charles Grant has written extensively on how the UK-EU relationship could develop in ways beneficial to all.
  • One reason for there being so little analysis of what UK positions could mean is because there is a lack of clarity over what the UK itself is seeking. The UK’s Balance of Competences Review provides not only some insights into what may be up for renegotiation, but also one of the most detailed analyses ever undertaken of the EU’s powers. The best overview of the review is by Michal Emerson (ed.) for the Centre for European Policy Studies.
  • In the academic literature the idea of European disintegration remains largely under-researched, the assumption being integration is a forward moving process. Douglas Webber’s January 2013 article in the European Journal of International Relations, ‘How like is it that the EU will disintegrate? A critical analysis of competing theoretical perspectives’ provides an excellent overview of what different theories of European integration can tell us. My own attempt, written for an academic conference, to apply a Brexit to Webber’s approach to the theories can be found here. There is also Hans Vollaard’s ‘Explaining European disintegration’ for the JCMS, and the Journal of Democracy October 2012 special issue on European disintegration. In June 2015 Global Society published my article ‘Europe’s British Question: the UK-EU Relationship in a Changing Europe and Multipolar World’. The work in this area has built on some discussions at several academic conferences.
  • Some books and reports discussing the UK’s European debate include brief discussion of the possible implications for the EU. The book by Roger Liddle, Tony Blair’s former special adviser on Europe, ‘The Risk of Brexit’ (for Policy Network) provides some insights into how the rest of the EU may respond to British demands. Some other national perspectives can be found in the Foreign Policy Centre’s 2014 report ‘Renegotiation, reform and referendum: does Britain have an EU future?’, edited by Adam Hug. In May 2015, The Guardian asked five journalists from other European countries to give their thoughts on what a Brexit might mean for their states and the rest of Europe. The Guardian’s report on what might happen if the UK leaves the EU touches on some of the possible implications for the EU. As the UK and the EU move through a renegotiation and referendum we can expect more pieces such as that by The Telegraph examining how other EU member states are responding to British overtures.

It is not clear how much more time there will be to prepare further research on what a Brexit or renegotiated relationship might mean for the EU. Cameron is moving quickly to get a referendum bill through Parliament.  A referendum in 2016 instead of 2017 looks difficult, but is a possibility.

ADDITION: 26 June 2015

The consultancy Global Counsel has put out the report ‘Brexit: the impact on the UK and the EU‘. Authored by Gregor Irwin, it provides an excellent analysis including of which of the EU’s member states might be most affected by a Brexit.

ADDITION: 29 June 2015

The Martens Centre for European Studies (the political foundation and official think tank of the European People’s Party) has produced a short brief entitled ‘Brexit in focus: Six ways it will fundamentally change the EU‘.



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