UK Votes to Leave EU: Pardee Professors on Brexit

Brexit 6.24

Voters in the United Kingdom turned out to the polls in droves on June 23, 2016 to determine whether Britain should leave or remain in the European Union. At the end of the day voters decided by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the EU, and Prime Minister David Cameron has announced he will step down by October. Professors at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies discussed the next steps for the United Kingdom following the referendum, including whether the vote to leave the EU is a binding decision.

Kaija SchildeAssistant Professor of International Relations, said the vote was not a binding one, and that the government will ultimately make the decision based on the result of the referendum.

“The referendum legislation as written makes the result of the vote an advisory one, where the government can decide what to do with the result. It could ignore it, call for a new vote in parliament or use it as a negotiating mandate for further reforms. This has happened in many EU plebiscites before. There have been many ‘no’ votes–some in recent history such as the Greek “Oxi” vote in 2015. What did that change? Nothing.”

John D. Woodward Jr., Professor of the Practice of International Relations, was in London on the night of the vote, and said it was apparent that the British conservative party was itself divided on the referendum.

“The fault line could not be clearer — Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU. Scottish nationalists, as Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon has at her June 24 press conference, will cannily and convincingly angle for another referendum on Scottish independence from the UK,” Woodward said. ” In this calculus, the UK’s leaving the EU will likely lead to Scotland leaving the UK.  Acknowledging this eventual outcome, one Briton sadly commented to me, ‘We haven’t got a United Kingdom any more’.”

Woodward, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, said United States government agencies will already have begun devising updated policy briefings based on the implications of the outcome of the referendum. 

“Meanwhile, on U.S. shores, officials at the US State Department, Treasury, Department of Defense, and other agencies will be preparing updated and much more detailed briefings on the significant implications of the UK decision for U.S. policy,” Woodward said.

Amb. Paul Webster HareSenior Lecturer at the Pardee School and British ambassador to Cuba from 2001-04, discussed how the outcome of the referendum will immediately affect the British Conservative Party as well economies across the globe.

“Cameron’s dilemma will be analyzed by future historians. He probably did not need to call a referendum but chose to promise one well before the 2015 election because he thought it would head off the UKIP rise. He succeeded famously in 2015 but since then the Syrian migrant crisis has intensified and Cameron proved a largely uninspiring campaigner in comparison with the ebullient and ruthless Boris Johnson,” Hare said. “Cameron was perhaps unlucky but there is a large slice of luck involved in being a successful politician. The Conservative party and the country now faces 3-4 months on intense uncertainty before a new leadership emerges. Meanwhile the British escaping their bad weather for overseas vacations this summer will see the pound in their pockets as worth far less than a year ago.”

Erik Goldstein, Professor of International Relations and History, discussed how the “Leave” outcome could lead to another referendum for Scottish independence, as well as what the vote could mean to the United States. 

“The core issues have been the economy and immigration, but underlying this is the very future of the country itself,” Goldstein said.  “A vote to ‘leave’ will probably trigger another referendum on Scottish independence, and lead to the break up of the United Kingdom. This in turn will mean that America will lose its most consistent European ally. The ramifications of this vote will extend far beyond the domestic issues being debated.”

Director of the Center for the Study of Europe and Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration Vivien Schmidt, said neo-liberalism is behind many of the core issues of contention over the referendum, but has been largely absent from public debate.

“The revolt against the political parties, the rejection of the experts, the distrust of the elites more generally—all of this has to do with neo-liberalism—as does the venting by working and middle class people against the worsening of their life chances due to stagnant wages, growing inequality, and the increasing difficulty for the young to get a foot on the real estate ladder, or a steady well-paying job,” Schmidt said. “And yet the real cause of these concerns is never addressed.  Instead, the EU and immigration are blamed for all of Britain’s ills.”

Cornel BanAssistant Professor of International Relations, discussed the political ideologies that led to the successful “Leave” campaign. 

“Brexit is the symptom of nearly four decades of Thatcherism and its heirs as much as it reflects a resurgent British nationalism fanned by the Tory far-right and the populist right,” Ban said. “Alongside the many winners of marketization and globalization this social experiment created and left behind another Britain. It is the Britain of intense native-migrant competition over subpar jobs and squalid housing, where the main street would be all but boarded up if it weren’t for pawn shops, payday lending and charities. Reports indicate that even those are struggling and that ill-health disables even large numbers of the middle aged. The role of the EU in this business was marginal at best.”

Amb. Vesko Garčević, Professor of the Practice of International Relations, said it could take years for the consequences of the referendum to manifest themselves.

“People are prone to think of further fragmentation of both the UK and the EU. Many Europeans would say that we’ve been dreaming a dream of a united Europe for decades. If this was a dream, Brexit is a wakeup call. The result of the British referendum seems to put a big question mark — if not an end — over the current concept of unification of Europe, but I would restrain from making hasty conclusions,”Garčević said. “It will take years for the full consequences to become clear. One thing is for sure: the EU urgently needs profound changes and revision of the current model.”

Joseph Wippl, Professor of the Practice of International Relations and a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, discussed how the outcome of the referendum could affect intelligence agencies across Europe.

“It is not hard to understand why almost all British intelligence officials were against the Brexit,” Wippl said. “They will lose influence in Europe and with the United States.  Traditionally, the British have always played above their weight in intelligence and diplomacy.  The reason is their concentration on these aspects of statecraft and the professionalism of British officials engaged therein.  This, as will so many other things, will change.”