Dra. Sophie Loussouarn (Jules Verne Universitè, Picardie, Amiens, France). Place: Classroom 1 (German Bernarcer building), 25th and 26th October 2017. Subject: English in Economy and Finance
The referendum of 23 June 2016 set the United Kingdom (UK) on a course of departure from the European Union (EU). This event has already proved to be of unsurpassed significance in post-Second World War UK history. The vote immediately produced intense and lasting party political turbulence. It put an end to the career of David Cameron, the Conservative Prime Minister who had called – and lost – the referendum. His Conservative successor at Number Ten, Theresa May, oversaw a significant turnover of Cabinet membership, with Cameron’s closest ally, George Obsorne removed and pro-Brexit figures such as Boris Johnson and David Davis joining. The ‘leave’ vote has created a painful dilemma for the Labour Party in formulating a coherent response to the Conservative exit policy.
The prospect of departure from the EU also raises deeper questions about the way in which the UK is governed. It has raised fundamental questions about where true ‘sovereignty’ lies in the UK constitution. The Article 50 legal challenge engaged questions about the allocation of power between the executive and the legislature, touching upon centuries old tensions involving the extent of the Royal Prerogative. A further uncertainty raised by the referendum has been how popular decision making of this type can be reconciled with principles of representative democracy, especially when prevailing views among many within the political elite are at loggerheads with the outlook of a large section of the public. The legal ramifications of withdrawal from the EU are expansive. European law has, since accession in 1973, occupied a special position within the UK order that is now set to come to an end. Managing this discontinuity is no straightforward task.
The vote for Brexit has highlighted and exacerbated cultural, generational and social divisions in the UK polity; between town and country, between the young and the elderly and between graduates and less formally educated people. It could even endanger the unity of the kingdom and the peace process in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Greater London voted for Remain while Wales and England chose Leave. The issue of EU membership has raised the possibility of a second referendum on Scottish independence which is now ruled out because the Scottish National Party lost 22 seats in the House of Commons in the general election on 8 June 2017. Furthermore, how will the UK divide its newly repatriated powers between the devolved and central institutions of governance after Brexit? Will it be necessary to move increasingly towards a federal constitutional model, if indeed such a system is applicable to the UK?.
The general election on 8 June 2017 led to further uncertainty and weakened Prime Minister Theresa May. Will she remain Prime Minister until the next general election? Will she be challenged by other Conservative candidates ? Could Jeremy Corbyn become the next Prime Minister of the UK?.
While the domestic implications of Brexit are immense, they are only part of the picture. The decision to cease participation in European integration is a major shift in the external posture of the UK. It has economic, political and security implications.
What will be the nature of the future relationship between the UK and the EU? The UK plans to leave both the Single Market and the Customs Union, and secure control over inward migration. Will it be possible, in such circumstances, for the UK to obtain the advanced Free Trade Agreement (FTA) it believes it can secure? What will be the economic consequences of whatever arrangement is arrived at for both the UK and the EU? Conservative MPs plan to force a September vote to keep the UK in the European Economic Area (EEA) for several years at least, to avert fears of severe economic damage when EU withdrawal is completed in 2019. Will the UK become diplomatically more distanced from the EU collectively and from individual member states such as France than it was before exit? Will some aspects of previously existing interactions, for instance military cooperation, remain intact, or will they necessarily change?
The UK holds that it will continue to be supportive of the EU project while ceasing to be a member itself. But what will be the impact of Brexit upon the EU? There are a range of possibilities. The withdrawal of the UK may accelerate the pace of integration and lead to a more politically and economically unified EU if the Franco-German couple unites after the election of Macron as French President and the reelection of Angela Merkel in Germany.
A further set of questions involves UK relations with the world beyond the EU. Will the UK continue to be a promoter of global free trade, as it asserts it will? Or will the pursuit of a series of bilateral FTAs amount to a de facto reassertion of protectionism? Will its withdrawal from the EU mark the beginning of a more unilateral approach to international affairs? Will the UK promote relationships with Asia or across the Atlantic? Will the Special Relationship with the United States be revived and will the bonds with the Commonwealth be restored?.
What Brexit actually means will dominate British politics for the next few years. Brexit means leaving the EU, implies taking back control of borders, laws and taxpayers’ money. Brexit will affect every sector of the economy and every part of the country. Will it weaken the UK and challenge the status of the City of London as the world’s financial centre ? Many businesses are worried and have lowered their investment in the UK. The UK growth has been downgraded to 1,7% of GDP for 2017 and 1,6% of GDP for 2018. Inflation has reached 2.9% in June 2017 hitting consumer spending and lowering the purchasing power of British households but unemployment is at its lowest at 4.5%. Will Brexit really happen or will there be another referendum on UK membership of the EU ?.
Dr Sophie LOUSSOUARN is an alumna of the Ecole Normale Supérieure (Ulm) and Oxford (Wadham College). She graduated from the Institute of Political Science in Paris and lectures at the University of Amiens. She wrote her PhD on the education of women in eighteenth-century England and has published a biography of Tony Blair and David Cameron and several articles about British politics and the British economy. She is often interviewed on French television about British politics and the economy.