IPR Blog

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Topic: EU membership

The Hard Brexit road to Indyref2


📥  Brexit, EU membership

Of all the political parties in the United Kingdom, the Scottish National Party is the most consistently strategic. That it lost a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 and barely three years later is in a position to call another one is testament to its strategic acumen. It turns heated internal arguments into clear external purpose, executed with discipline. Yesterday, the Prime Minister accused it of treating politics as a game. She could hardly have chosen a less appropriate attack.



Calling a second referendum is high risk. If it is lost, as Quebecois nationalists know, the chances of striking it lucky third time are remote. The economic arguments against independence remain formidable, and would be further complicated, not resolved, by a parting of the ways between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom over membership of the European Union.

Two factors explain Nicola Sturgeon’s decision: the intransigence of Conservative-Unionism and the weakness of the Labour Party. Intransigence is in part an artifact of the Prime Minister’s governing style, which combines “personal animus and political diligence”, as David Runciman has written. She sticks to a position doggedly and keeps things close to her in No10. She is capable of ruthless revenge, to the point of petulance, as Michael Heseltine recently discovered. It is a statecraft that has served her well until now. It is not one that is suited to sharing power in a process of negotiation and compromise across a fractured union.

Her choice of the hard route to Brexit has also narrowed her scope for flexibility. Taking Britain out of the EU single market and customs union is the proximate cause of Scotland’s discontent. It is also the source of mounting opposition to Brexit in Northern Ireland. There would be no possibility of a hard border in Ireland if the government had not chosen a Hard Brexit. And it is primarily because the government wants to negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, and to strike its own trade deals with the rest of the world, that is resisting the devolution to Scotland of the powers over agriculture and fisheries that will be repatriated from Brussels. (What’s more, if Britain leaves the EU without a deal, and unilaterally removes all tariffs in order to smooth its path to the WTO, the impact would be disproportionately felt by Scotland’s manufacturers, farmers, and distilleries). The logic of Hard Brexit is Conservative-Unionist, when to meet the aspirations of its constituent nations, and to hold itself together, Britain needs a flexible, federalist approach.

History is in danger of repeating itself. The last time the United Kingdom was challenged by the aspirations for greater self-determination of a significant proportion of one its nations was during the long struggle for Irish Home Rule. Conservative-Unionists met that challenge by suppression, not accommodation. It didn’t end well.

The second factor is the decline of the Labour Party. It has been widely remarked that the SNP will use Labour’s electoral weaknesses to present the referendum as a choice between independence and indefinite Conservative government at Westminster. But a near-term calculation is at work here too: Labour’s decline means that the referendum campaign itself will be fought between the SNP and the Conservatives. Labour will not carry the banner of unionism – the very term is now toxic for the party in Scotland – and while its UK leader cannot even stick to an agreed script, it will be incapable of marshalling anti-nationalist forces, as it once did. The referendum will become the straight fight with the Conservatives that the SNP has always wanted.

Labour’s vacillation on Europe means that it is currently largely voiceless in the national debate on Brexit. It is shedding votes to the Liberal Democrats as a consequence. It fears a further loss of support to UKIP and the Conservatives if it backs membership of the single market and customs union in the Brexit negotiations. But the prospect of the breakup of the UK, the unstitching of the Northern Irish settlement, and economic decline in its heartlands should give it cause to consider the national interest, not just the party interest. Labour could make itself politically relevant to the future of the UK, and to the Brexit negotiations, if it changed tack and support continued membership of the EU single market, as well as a new (quasi) federal constitutional settlement for the UK (perhaps even creating an English Labour Party in the process). Perhaps this is unthinkable, even for a desperate party. But without such a change, there is no prospect of a parliamentary bloc that unites pro-European Conservatives with Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and other parties in meaningful opposition to the government. And without that, there is every prospect of a Hard Brexit and the breakup of the United Kingdom.

Brexit and the bread ration: a story of everyday farming subsidies

📥  Agriculture, Brexit, Economy, EU membership

Professor Stuart Reynolds is Emeritus Professor of Biology in the Department of Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Bath, and former President of the Royal Entomological Society. 

In the 18th Century economist Adam Smith identified the “invisible hand” of the marketplace as the true, efficient regulator of prices. This is now conventional wisdom, and the idea that free trade is best is so pervasive that the diplomats and politicians of every country seem to exert themselves ceaselessly to abolish or minimise the barriers in its way; globalisation appears an unstoppable trend, opposed only by the fringe protesters of the anarchist left.

There’s no more important commodity than food. So do we practice free trade in food? Of course not.

The truth is that today almost no country on earth is prepared to allow a laissez-faire agricultural system. A secure supply of food is so central to public contentment that no politician can risk endangering it, and almost every government fiddles with the food chain through subsidies on prices or other kinds of payments to domestic food producers. In this way, farmers are encouraged to grow more crops, raise more animals. This intervention results in food that is more expensive than it would otherwise be (although part of the price may be concealed as taxes).

There’s a long tradition of such fiddling with food prices that stretches back at least to ancient Rome, in which the cura annonae - a grain dole to registered heads of households - was used at first to hold down prices to a set level, and later on became a totally free handout of bread to citizens of the Imperial city. It’s notable that it was introduced when Rome was a republic and citizens held at least a semblance of democratic power. Electors were wooed by rich candidates with low food prices. The grain dole imposed costs on the empire (and therefore on taxes) and must have been a nightmare to administer. It caused endless political problems, but nevertheless it worked well enough to endure from the grain laws of Gaius Gracchus in 123 BC through to the Empire and at least the late 3rd Century CE.

Today, such fiddling with food prices continues on a previously unimaginable scale. The world’s largest producer of food, the United States of America, up until 2014 regulated the market through price support not only of cereals but also of numerous other commodities. Responding to criticism of this market-distorting expenditure, the Farm Bill of that year phased out direct payments to farmers (some of those previously available did not require the recipient to grow any crop at all), but despite this change the USA’s food market is still regulated by a hand that is far from invisible. The US Department of Agriculture’s budget is so large (the total outlay for 2016 is estimated at US$148bn) and so complicated that it’s difficult to say exactly how large is the total direct and indirect subsidy actually paid to US farmers - but some idea of the scale of intervention can be seen from the 2016 USDA budget estimates. According to the OECD, the benefits to farmers in 2015 totalled $38.7bn. Despite the 2014 Farm Bill, support payments for particular commodities are still made as “agricultural risk/price loss coverage” (the total for 2016 is estimated to be $7.1bn). Moreover, there are numerous other billion-dollar-scale benefits to farmers, such as crop insurance to the value of $8.2bn (effectively providing a guaranteed income from a planted field) and environmental payments such as the “conservation reserve program” (a $1.8bn fund similar to the EU’s stewardship programme).

The EU is another big subsidiser of food production. According to the EU itself, from 2016 it will spend €42bn per year on direct payments to producers based on land area (the so-called “first pillar” of support to farmers). A further €13.6bn is provided for rural development (“second pillar”) funding. Again, it’s difficult to track every actual subsidy, and the OECD reckons that the total subsidy in 2015 was much more than this, at €81.1bn.

Launched in 1962 (before the UK was a member), the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) initially caused various kinds of food prices to be supported by interventionist purchase of surplus harvest, and had the desired effect of increasing production. It was so successful that it quickly resulted in the notorious “mountains” of butter, sugar and grain, and “lakes” of wine and olive oil that in the 1980s were almost daily excoriated as a scandal by British tabloid headline writers. The EU is typically represented by its critics as exceptionally unresponsive to media pressure of this kind, but - by 1992 - the Commission was obliged to reform the policy by reducing price supports and paying farmers not to grow crops at all (“set-aside”). Subsequently, in 2003, the EU’s agri-food policy was modified again, so that subsidies for particular crops were withdrawn altogether, while maintaining much the same level of total support for farmers through area-based “single farm payments” which now account for most CAP spending. The idea is to make farmers more responsive to agricultural product markets, and less strongly driven by the level of subsidy. Does that mean that Europe has at last achieved an Adam Smith-style laissez-faire agricultural policy? Hardly. The level of payments to farmers is still massive, representing around 40% of the whole EU budget.

The OECD gives figures for subsidies as a percentage of total farm income. The 2015 figure for the 28 countries of the EU is 28%, while that for the USA is only one third of that at 9.4% - and both these superstates are far from the top of the subsidy list. The biggest spenders are small, rich states. In both Norway and Switzerland, for example, subsidies represent more than 60% of total farm income. In fact price supports and other interventionist instruments are alive and well in the agricultural systems of almost all the countries listed in the OECD table. Although at the World Trade Organization talks of 2001, the rapidly developing BRIIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia and China) opposed the distorting effects of the agricultural subsidies of the developed world (especially the USA and the EU), the strategy of the former has since been to emulate the policies of the latter. China’s total payments to farmers ($160bn per year in 2012, representing 21% of farm income), in point of fact, now dwarf those of the USA, both in total and proportionally.

Although globalisation is nominally all about tearing down barriers to free trade, there’s little sign that the interventionist policies of the biggest food producers are about to change. Evidently free trade is thought to be a good idea as long as it’s not free trade in food. One reason for this is simple but scandalous: the farm payments that are the core of these policies go overwhelmingly to the biggest landowners. The recent press reports identifying the top 100 recipients of EU farm subsidies as a roll call of the very rich make interesting but horrifying reading. In the USA the picture is similar with three quarters of the money going to only one tenth of recipients. These big landowners are of course prominent among the people who bankroll politicians (in some cases they are actually the same people), and they make it clear that they want the farm payments to continue. Viewed in this way, farm subsidies look like politically sanctioned schemes to transfer wealth from poor to rich.

But inequitable political power is volatile, and meddling with food prices comes at a political cost - at least where democracy is practised. Populist politicians don’t have to work hard to persuade electors of the merits of cheap food policies. Direct payments to farmers that aren’t tied to food production are particularly hard to justify. And it’s difficult to keep corruption from creeping in when very large sums of money are sloshing around. Although farmers are effective lobbyists in many countries, it’s hard work to defend payments to plutocrat landowners. And how come the biggest landowners receive larger proportional subsidies than small ones?

The result of these conflicting pressures is a trade-off between laissez-faire policies that yield cheap food (popular with voters) and intervening to ensure a consistent supply (popular with farmers). Evidently the enhanced security of the food supply makes higher prices palatable to the electorate at least some of the time.

Farm payments don’t only affect farmers at home. Direct payments to farmers can also lead to price distortions on world markets that amount to the dumping of surplus food at low prices, effectively hindering access to the agricultural products of less-developed countries and generating food insecurity. The EU and the USA have also both been accused of dumping their own surpluses as food aid to regions suffering food shortages; this feeds those who are starving, but has the disastrous effect of impoverishing local food producers. Responding to criticism of this kind, in the last twenty years donors have increasingly chosen to purchase food aid locally instead of sending aid from stores in the donor country - but this is still a controversial area.

There are also arguments other than economic ones to be made against political intervention in agricultural markets. One of these is that price supports not only boost the incomes of farmers, but also determine what kinds of crops farmers grow, regardless of whether they are actually needed. It isn’t an accident that maize (corn) is the US’s biggest crop – it’s also the most heavily subsidised. Almost all of the maize grown is not for human consumption, and most is destined to be eaten by cattle. It is the availability of cheap corn that has enabled the vastly increased production of feedlot beef cattle, and hence the growth of the burger industry.

But there aren’t enough cows to eat all the maize that is produced, and something else must be done with it. In recent years, with awareness of climate change and the need to limit fossil fuel consumption, there has been enthusiasm for turning it into alcohol for use as fuel - and in 2009 some 29% of US corn production was used in this way. But there are now serious doubts about the environmental benefits of ethanol-based fuels, and official enthusiasm for biofuel has waned. The other main non-cattle use for maize is the production of corn syrup, a commodity that is actively looking for both food and non-food uses, despite the fact that it probably isn’t a very healthy choice as a food. Low-cost sugary drinks are a direct consequence of growing all that corn. The knock-on consequences of growing the wrong kinds of food are serious, being directly relevant to the state of public health and the (huge) costs of healthcare systems. Too many burgers, too many sugary drinks? It won’t do simply to blame the people who follow such a diet. The fact is that that these are the cheap foods that many poor people are obliged to consume. The modern epidemic of obesity is at least in part due to agricultural policies followed by the US and other developed nations.

Green activists have also finally realised that many kinds of farm subsidy are very bad for the rural environment. Any system that promotes bringing as much land as possible under the plough is bound to diminish biodiversity. The whole point of agriculture is to promote the growth of a single kind of crop at the expense of whatever would be there otherwise. The more efficient is the agriculture, the fewer other species will be able to live alongside it. The 2016 State of Nature report, which was produced by a consortium of green NGOs and pressure groups, concluded that in the UK “policy-driven agricultural change [is] by far the most significant driver of [biodiversity] declines”. It’s true that the EU has in the past made a portion of payments to producers (currently about 20% of the total) contingent on negotiated plans for environmental stewardship, but the complex bureaucracy involved is formidable and unpopular with many farmers.

What are the prospects for a world-wide reduction in the scale of agricultural subsidies?

It’s notable that interventionist policies tend to be implemented when memories of shocks to the food supply chain are still strong. The notorious British Corn Laws (tariffs on wheat imports designed to maintain a minimum price for the domestic product) were introduced in 1815, just after the battle of Waterloo brought the Napoleonic wars to a close. US farm payments began in the 1920s, following a period of volatility in farm gate prices, and were consolidated in the depression years. The European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was negotiated over a decade of wrangling in the 1950s, less than 10 years after World War II’s food rationing. The idea in all these cases was to ensure food security. This suggests that when politicians who never experienced the nutritional deprivation associated with war or other food price shocks, rationing, or even starvation, finally come to power, they will fret much more about high food prices than did the previous generation, and worry much less about continuity of supply. Perhaps this is what’s happening now; perhaps we can expect a rapid change in food policy as the baby boomers of the late 1940s retire from the political scene.

Reducing or eliminating farm subsidies makes most sense for countries with secure domestic food supplies that are also net exporters of food. Today, the states that intervene least in food pricing by some way are New Zealand and Vietnam, both of which have subsidies less than 1% of farm income. These are both countries with large farming sectors occupying particularly favourable geographic positions from the point of view of agriculture-friendly climates combined with closeness to the emerging market of China. There are other nations (like Australia, Brazil, Chile and South Africa) that have low levels of subsidy (all less than 5% of farm income), but they don’t come close to these two.

New Zealand is particularly interesting, because it took the decision to deregulate its highly developed and previously highly subsidised agricultural industry only in 1984, and has since prospered. The country’s animal industry is particularly successful, exporting grass-grown beef, lamb and dairy goods. Enthusiasts for deregulated agriculture argue that the abolition of price intervention and other supports in 1984 has allowed New Zealand farmers to innovate and become successful exporters. This is a remarkable achievement given that New Zealand farmers don’t sell into an unfettered supply-and-demand market, because most international competitors operate under interventionist conditions and many of their customers impose tariff barriers to imports. Surely, it is argued, this kind of success is what every country should aim to emulate? But the period since 1984 has coincided with the unprecedentedly rapid growth of the Chinese economy and a concomitant huge increase in exports of New Zealand agricultural products to China. This was consolidated in the 2008 zero-tariff free trade agreement with China. Would New Zealand’s non-interventionist food policy stance have been possible in a time of less impressive market growth? Will its success continue? The questions have at least to be asked.

Here in the UK there is already widespread discussion about what will happen to UK food and agriculture policy after Brexit, when we in the UK can in principle decide to do as we like?

British politicians have never been happy about Europe’s interventionist CAP, perhaps being influenced by long-lasting memories of the problems caused by the 1815 Corn Laws, which enriched big farmers but inflated grain prices and caused misery for the poor. A parliament stuffed with landowners was reluctant to forego the profits, but it was only too obvious that eventually the Corn Laws would have to go. Only the disaster of the Irish Potato Famine caused their repeal in 1846, and British statesmen have been suspicious of food price intervention ever since. However, it is ironic that during the years of EU membership, British politicians have evidently become so accustomed to the EU’s system of agricultural support payments that in the recent past, far from demanding to scrap it, they have featured among its fiercest proponents. In the latest iteration of the CAP, provision is made for national governments to impose a ceiling on payments; unlike most EU countries, the UK government has chosen not to do so. It’s quite difficult to explain this, but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the continuing preference of the landed classes for the Conservative party may have had something to do with it.

Some kind of reform seems at least desirable. Vested interests, such as the big landowners and perhaps the politicians whom they support, will doubtless argue that what is needed is simply to institute a local version of the CAP, which will continue to intervene in various ways to support farmers’ incomes (perhaps especially those of big landowners). But the press has already smelled blood over the level of payments to the very rich, and popular sentiment for a redistribution of payments in favour of small farmers seems certain to grow. Politicians don’t like populist campaigns like this (remember the fuss about MP’s expenses?) but inevitably they are obliged to respond when votes are at stake.

A further shift towards green farming also seems likely. NGOs such as the National Trust are already arguing that Brexit offers an opportunity to enact a policy that will do more to protect the countryside from the undesirable environmental effects of intensive farming. It is uncertain to what extent, however, these campaigns will be successful in a time of austerity.

It isn’t hard to predict that politicians will be most concerned to respond to electors’ worries about the cost of feeding their families. For this reason, a reduction in the total extent of farm subsidies now looks inevitable. Farmers, whether plutocrats or crofters, will doubtless squeal, and the National Farmers’ Union will campaign to maintain direct payments at pre-Brexit levels. Perhaps there will even be French-style protests involving invasions of tractors in central London. But there can be little doubt that much of the referendum support for Brexit came from those who feel neglected by the existing political system, and who have little sympathy with farmers and farm workers, who are now so few in number that they can exert little political leverage except through lobbying at the highest levels. The success of the Brexit campaign rested at least in part on promises to repatriate the UK's payments to the EU and to redirect them to popular worthy causes such as the National Health Service. There are high expectations that at least something of this kind will be delivered. But given that maintaining direct farm payments until 2020, as already promised by the Government, will consume almost half of this money, the political pressure to reduce agricultural subsidies after that date will be very hard to resist.


Four men who will shape the way the EU negotiates Brexit

📥  Brexit, EU membership, EU renegotiation, France, Germany, International relations

Dr Susan Milner is Reader in European Politics at the University of Bath. Dr Patricia Hogwood is Reader in European Politics at the University of Westminster, and Clément Jadot is a PhD candidate at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.

Although the UK has yet to announce when it will trigger the all-important Article 50, which will start the process of it leaving the European Union, diplomats on the continent are getting ready for kick-off. Here we profile four people – two Germans, a Frenchman and a Belgian – who are likely to play a part in shaping the way Brexit negotiations will play out.



Michel Barnier
Chief Negotiator for the European Commission on Article 50

The nomination of Michel Barnier in July to head European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s task force on Brexit negotiations raised eyebrows and a few hackles in Britain. The right-wing press depicted the Brussels insider as an “arch federalist”. He has been an EU commissioner twice, most recently in charge of the single market from 2010 to 2014, and is known in the UK as the architect of banking union.

But Barnier has been at pains in his recent writing to distinguish himself from both what he sees as a British-style narrow agenda for the EU and a federalist expansive view of it. Instead, he has sought to promote a strong European economy and industry in a world of regional economic blocs: as he put it in his 2014 book, “less regulation and more policy”. Commentators agree that his task force, which will start work on October 1, shows that Juncker’s commission means business.

Two things are of note here: first, Barnier’s team shows a strong Franco-German political leadership, with the appointment of current trade commissioner Sabine Weyand as his deputy, and experienced commission official, Stéphanie Riso as his chief advisor. Second, all concerned have strong links with the single market, intra-EU trade and external trade negotiations. The level of specialist knowledge, experience and networks they have to hand will be difficult to match on the British side.

Barnier also has strong links with the French political establishment, maintained over a long career in politics (he was the youngest MP in parliament at the age of 27 in 1978). This means that he will have a close working relationship with any of the likely presidential candidates of France’s right-wing party Les Republicans who currently look best-placed to beat the Front National in next year’s executive elections.

At the moment, France’s relationship with the UK is mired in acrimony over the Calais migrant crisis which will intensify as the elections loom, creating another headache for Brexit negotiators. Any incoming French president is likely to push for a tough line on allowing Britain to retain access to the single market.

Martin Selmayr
Head of Cabinet for Jean-Claude Juncker

EU president Jean-Claude Juncker’s right-hand man, Martin Selmayr, is well-placed to set the parameters of the Brexit negotiations. A professor of European law, Selmayr was appointed Juncker’s head of cabinet in 2014. There his responsibilities include overall management of the cabinet and legal and communications strategy. Fiercely competent, ruthless and abrasive, Selmayr is a staunch European federalist who believes that the UK has long obstructed European integration and that Brexit will promote European unity.

Selmayr is best known in Britain for his comment that the prospect of Boris Johnson as UK prime minister would be a “horror scenario”. Selmayr enjoys links to the German media and to Angela Merkel’s chief of staff Peter Altmaier, but some believe he may be taking too much of a political risk in confounding Germany’s leadership role in EU internal matters. Certainly, Germany has been keen to avoid the Commission dominating the Brexit process for fear that hardliners Juncker and Selmayr would adopt a confrontational and uncompromising stance against the UK.

EU member-state governments were quick to block an attempt by Selmayr to appoint himself as the coordinator of Brexit negotiations for the European Council – a job that council president Donald Tusk gave to the Belgian Didier Seeuws. But Selmayr remains in an ideal position to shape the commission task-force once the exit clause is triggered by the UK.

Guy Verhofstadt
European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator

A spearhead of the federalist movement within the European Parliament, Belgian’s former prime minister Guy Verhofstadt enjoys great popularity both in Belgium and the EU and substantial experience in negotiating both at the national and EU levels. But his appointment as the parliament’s chief negotiator on Brexit, sparked criticism from UK eurosceptics, with the former UKIP leader Nigel Farage branding him a “fanatic”.

Former Belgian PM, Guy Verhofstadt. ALDEGroup/flickr.com, CC BY-ND
At the age of just 29 he became president of the Flemish liberal party of Belgium and quickly became a major political player. As prime minister between 1999 and 2008 he was already looking towards Europe – and in 2006 wrote a book called the United States of Europe. But in 2004, the then UK prime minister Tony Blair refused to back him as a candidate to succeed Romano Prodi as European Commission President, despite the fact that he had had early support from French president Jacques Chirac and German chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

Five years later, he entered the European Parliament as an MEP, where he’s been holding the chairmanship of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group ever since. He has built up a reputation as a fierce partisan of a federal Europe. Popular among his peers, he co-founded the Spinelli Group in 2010 – a network of organisations working for greater federalism in Europe – and in 2014 was the ALDE party nominee for the European Commission presidency.

In the UK, Verhofstadt is known for his arguments within the European Parliament with eurosceptics and nationalists over the future of Europe. Since his appointment, he has been frank about his negotiating position, in particular, insisting the parliament would refuse a deal which would allow the UK to enjoy access to the single market while opting out of the free movement of people.

No doubt that over the forthcoming discussions, Verhofstadt will be a tough and experienced negotiator.

Michael Roth
Germany’s de facto Brexit negotiator

As soon as the EU referendum result became known, it was clear that Germany would play a key role in the Brexit negotiations. In Germany, an issue exists only when it has legal status. This means that there will be no formal designation of a Brexit negotiating team until the UK triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, formally launching the exit process. In the meantime, Germany’s de facto spokesperson on Brexit is Michael Roth.

A committed protestant and member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Roth has been an MP since 1998. He was made European affairs minister in 2013, aged 43. As a secretary of state or junior minister, to the public Roth is little known outside his home region of Hessen, but is recognised in political circles as one of the most influential up-and-coming politicians in chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet.

Young, dynamic and confident, Roth claims to be “heart and guts” for Europe. On Brexit, Roth is a moderate, conceding that the EU will need to work out a “special status” for the UK after Brexit on account of the country’s size, its economic weight and the length of its membership of the EU. At the same time, though, he has stressed that a close relationship would not allow UK “cherry picking” and there would be no access to the EU free market without the free movement of people. He insists that the UK needs to be ready to negotiate at the start of 2017.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.


The Brexit referendum and the future of the EU

📥  Brexit, EU membership, EU Referendum, EU renegotiation, Euroscepticism, future

Dr Nicholas Startin is Senior Lecturer in French and European Politics in the University of Bath's Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies.

Earlier this year, I was invited to speak at the European Ideas Network’s (EIN) annual summer school in Croatia. The EIN is a centre-right think-tank which promotes new thinking on the key challenges facing the countries of the EU. The title of my talk, ‘The Future of the EU’, was scheduled for exactly one week after the announcement of the Brexit referendum result. Inevitably events dictated both my pitch as well as the mood of the delegates.



The EIN is sponsored by the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest transnational group in the European Parliament (EP), and the summer school was attended by a significant rump of the EPP’s MEPs. The group comprises centre-right MEPs from across the member states and historically it has had, and still retains, a pro-EU outlook. It is the home of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former and would-be next French President Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as current President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and President of the European Council Donald Tusk. The British Conservative party famously withdrew from the group following the European elections in 2009 and set up the smaller, more EU-critical grouping called the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). As a result of this development my presence at the summer school as a British national, which took place in the aptly named city of Split, was something of a novelty in the aftermath of the referendum result. It was fascinating to witness the reaction of delegates, who, like myself, were still coming to terms with the result and its potential consequences for the future of the European project.

The rollercoaster of Brexit

I began my talk by giving an overview of the roller coaster ride the seven days since the referendum result had been from a UK perspective – both the Conservatives and Labour embroiled in leadership crises, the UK potentially disuniting, the markets in turmoil and a general sense that nobody really knew what was to follow! To provide some context I examined some of the supply and demand-side variables that had shaped the outcome of the referendum (see Startin 2015) and focused primarily on the polarised nature of the two campaigns.

The ‘Britain stronger in Europe’ campaign was almost wholly built around the perceived economic benefits of UK membership of the EU, based on the assumption that the economic growth and jobs vital to the future of the UK economy would only continue while a member. In spite of the backing of major economic and financial organisations such the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in isolation the so-called ‘rational choice’ argument posited by the Remain campaign did not prove sufficient to win the argument. Built more or less singularly around the status quo, the one dimensional pitch of the ‘Britain stronger in Europe’ campaign failed to make the emotional case for the EU. Beyond the economic argument there was scant mention of the EU’s perceived benefits be they minor, such as the abolition of mobile phone roaming charges, or major, like the fact that there has been no military conflict between any member state since its formation!

The ‘Vote Leave’ campaign was also largely one dimensional in approach but was centred on the issue of immigration. In spite of the tragic death of the Labour MP Jo Cox one week before the plebiscite, the ‘Take back control’ slogan utilised by the Leave campaign gained significant traction in the closing stages. It was buoyed by the front-page bombardment approach of three of the major tabloids – The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Daily Express – all of whom focused their major rationale for voting leave around the theme of migration. False claims that Turkey would soon join the EU and constant reminders of a potential rise in net EU migration to the UK (as the consequence of staying in the EU) saturated their front pages in the build-up to the referendum.

The ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ campaign failed to make a cogent case for some of the positive benefits of EU migration and this allowed Vote Leave to take ownership of this most salient issue. In the context of the refugee crisis and against the backdrop of the terrible events of 2015 and 2016 in Paris and Brussels, the issues of immigration and security had become intrinsically linked. A major flaw of the Remain campaign was that, in the face of the tabloid bombardment, it failed to differentiate between Freedom of Movement and the Schengen passport-free zone, and to robustly emphasise that the UK is not part of the latter. Freedom of Movement, in terms of its perceived benefits for UK citizens, was largely ignored and should have been pitched in a more positive light. In contrast to immigration, which was owned by Vote Leave as an issue, the ‘Britain stronger in Europe’ campaign failed to take ownership of their flagship issue – the so-called economic, rational choice argument. Vote Leave focused to great effect on the £350 million a week they claimed the EU was costing the UK.

The generational and socioeconomic cleavages of Brexit

Beyond the immediate political uncertainty created by the referendum result in the UK, the vote revealed two major divisions which were part of a wider political malaise facing Europe’s political elites, namely generational and socioeconomic cleavages. According to a YouGov poll on the eve of the referendum 75% of 18-24s who voted did so for Remain, which was in contrast to the 61% of over-65s who voted leave. Significantly though according to Sky News data the turnout was only 36% among the under-25s compared to 83% among the over-65s, raising significant questions about the impact of the polarised nature of electoral participation on the actual result itself (see Speed 2016)[i]. With 82% of 16- and 17-year-olds saying they would have voted to Remain (if like their counterparts in the 2014 Scottish referendum they had been given the franchise), this only served to underline the glaring generational gap on the issue of EU membership and to foster a notion that the younger generation had been ‘sold down the river’ by their parents and grandparents[ii]. In the immediate aftermath of the result a petition was signed by over 4 million people (many of whom were under 25 and had not voted) calling for a debate in parliament to discuss the possibility of a second referendum[iii].

The second cleavage underlined by the result of the referendum was the glaring socio-economic gap in terms of the vote. Both demographic polling data and geographic data from the referendum itself would appear to suggest clear lines of division between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. According to polls both prior to and post the referendum the ‘leave’ vote was significantly skewed towards voters with low levels of income which, as Nick Pearce observed, pitted ‘working-class voters in post-industrial towns and cities, deprived seaside resorts and the agri-business rural areas of England and Wales, against the young, middle-class and-university-educated cosmopolitan centres.’ (Pearce 2016)

There is a certain irony in the fact that it was the country among the EU 28 that has arguably the least collective understanding of the EU (see Eurobarometer data on the so-called ‘knowledge deficit’) that was the first to vote on whether to remain in the EU, since the UK itself voted to stay in the European Community in 1975. While there is a long-standing debate over whether people actually believe what they read in newspapers and while generalisations about the socio-demographic profile of ‘tabloid readers’ should be treated with caution, the link between the ‘knowledge gap’ and negative attitudes towards the EU is nevertheless well documented (Startin 2015). There is no doubt that the UK tabloid press exerts an influence over how the EU is framed in the UK which is unrivalled in other EU nations (Startin 2015). Certainly, the front-page bombardment approach of the aforementioned tabloids intensified in the build-up to the referendum at a time when many voters remained unsure of which way to cast their vote. There is no doubt that the influence of the tabloids was a significant ‘supply-side’ influence which shaped the outcome of the referendum result.

What next for Europe? The future of the EU

What does Brexit mean for the future of the EU? First, I believe that the referendum result will be remembered as a symbolic turning point in the history of European integration which will serve to galvanise Eurosceptic voices across the continent, with Far Right Front National leader Marine Le Pen already calling for a referendum in France on EU membership and similar opinions being espoused by other populist leaders such as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. Euroscepticism has become increasingly embedded and mainstreamed across the EU member states since the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, the 2004 Big-bang enlargement and the subsequent economic and refugee crises. Although a British invention, Euroscepticism is not a uniquely British phenomenon! The EU must, as a matter of urgency, learn lessons from the result. Its political elites have historically been slow to respond to dissenting voices in spite of the fact that Eurobarometer data has indicated for a number of years that public support and trust for the EU has clearly declined across member states. EU elites have not sufficiently engaged with opponents of European integration: Eurosceptics, in some respects, are the equivalent of the opposition in a domestic political context.

Europe’s elites must acknowledge that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is now redundant in terms of recalibrating and re-energising the EU. Such an approach is more likely to continue to divide than to unite. There needs to be some recognition that the appetite for ‘ever closer union’ has waned in many nations and that the reform agenda (of which we hear so much) must be embraced as a matter of urgency if the EU is to survive this setback. While transparency, accountability and democracy remain the buzzwords which should drive the EU forward, it is vital that concrete reforms are enacted that Europe’s citizens would be able to interpret both in a positive light and as of direct benefit to them.

What would our priorities be if we were starting the European project afresh? I suggest the following potential areas the EU should consider in order to redress a growing sense of disillusionment among Europe’s citizens:

·         The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP): Despite previous reform it is clear that in an EU of 28 (or potentially 27 post Brexit) the CAP saps too much of the overall EU budget. How can it be right that what was set up essentially as a self-preservation mechanism to provide self-sufficiency in foodstuffs in the aftermath of the Second World War should, nearly 60 years on, still account for 40% of the EU budget when agriculture is only responsible for about 2% of EU nation states’ GDP? Could this money not be spent more wisely elsewhere on policies which affect Europe’s citizens more directly like the Globalisation Adjustment fund or on more robust attempts at combatting Europe’s chronic youth unemployment than currently exist under the umbrella of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion?

·         The European Commission: The EU’s reputation for a lack of transparency, accountability and democracy stems in no small part from the image of the Commission. Trimming back both the size and role of the Commission would certainly help to restore the EU’s tarnished image. More visibility and accountability within this institution would help to re-assert that the EU is indeed an intergovernmental project where actual power lies with the Heads of Government of the European Council. Linked to this, developing further the legislative role of the European Parliament should also be part of a recalibration of the EU’s institutions.

·         Freedom of Movement (FOM): Although enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty and a pillar of the Single Market, FOM, more than any other issue, has created tensions across the member states. While this is a highly contentious issue – as the principle of the FOM is core to the European project – it continues to be a galvanising force across the EU for Eurosceptics. The EU must face up to this as challenges to the FOM show no signs of receding. A mechanism must be found which gives nation states some flexibility in managing the impact of migration on their labour markets.

In my concluding remarks I re-emphasised that the EU must take some responsibility for the position in which it finds itself and acknowledge the criticisms surrounding its transparency, flexibility and democracy. Communicating its message more effectively will also be key in the months and years ahead. Back in 2014 I argued that ‘overcoming the ‘knowledge deficit’ is perhaps the major challenge facing the EU and ought to be one of the overarching priorities of Jean-Claude Juncker’s new European Commission.’ (Startin 2014) This must continue to remain a key priority. One of the key lessons from the Brexit referendum result, beyond the need for the reform agenda to finally kick in, is that the ‘knowledge gap’ on EU affairs is a potent force which populist parties will continue to exploit. Whether Brexit means Brexit (and only time will tell whether it does while Article 50 remains unlocked) the referendum result underlines that the European Union is at a major crossroads. A failure on behalf of Europe’s elites to respond to this warning shot has the potential to lead to the unravelling of the European project.


[i] This turn-out figure has since been disputed by evidence compiled by the London School of Economics (LSE); the YouGov data nevertheless raises significant questions about the impact of electoral participation among young voters and its influence on the actual result (Helm 2016: 3)
[ii] According to a poll by The Student Room 16- and 17-year-olds having the vote would have led to a Bremain victory – http://tsrmatters.com/eu-referendum-uk-result-would-have-been-remain-had-votes-been-allowed-at-16/
[iii] ‘A House of Commons debate on a petition calling for a second EU referendum will take place on Monday, 5 September. The Commons Petitions Committee confirmed the record-breaking online petition, signed by more than four million people, will be put forward for debate. The petition, which was set up by a Brexit supporter before the referendum was held, called for the Government to annul the results if the Remain or Leave vote won by less than 60 per cent on a turnout of less than 75 per cent.’ (Osborne 2016)



(2016) ‘EU referendum: How the results compare to the UK's educated, old and immigrant populations’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/24/eu-referendum-how-the-results-compare-to-the-uks-educated-old-an/
Helm, T. (2016) ‘New figures reveal young people turned out in high numbers for EU poll’, The Observer, 10 July, p:7.

Osborne, S. (2016) ‘Second EU referendum petition to be debated in Parliament after receiving more than 4m signatures’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-second-eu-referendum-petition-latest-news-debate-parliament-mps-uk-position-in-europe-a7132836.html
Pearce, N. (2016) ‘Labour is caught in a bind between its metropolitan and working-class heartlands’, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/02/brexit-labour-divisions-way-forward
Speed, B. (2016) ‘How did different demographic groups vote in the EU referendum’ http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2016/06/how-did-different-demographic-groups-vote-eu-referendum

Startin, N. (2014) ‘From the margins to the mainstream: ‘Europe’ as an issue for the Radical Right’ Networking European Citizenship Education Policy brief, Vienna.
Startin, N. (2015) Have we reached a tipping point? The mainstreaming of Euroscepticism in the UK. International Political Science Review, 36 (3), pp. 311-323.
Startin, N. (2016) ‘To be or not to be?’ ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ and other clichés: the 2016 UK referendum on EU membership’ http://www.bath.ac.uk/ipr/pdf/policy-briefs/eu-referendum-debate.pdf


The most influential text of late Victorian imperialism was J R Seeleys The Expansion of England

📥  Brexit, David Cameron, Economy, employment, EU membership, EU Referendum, EU renegotiation, policymaking

The most influential text of late Victorian imperialism was J. R. Seeley’s The Expansion of England.  In it, Seeley, a Cambridge historian, argued that underneath the surface of British political history - the stories of the rise and fall of Prime Ministers, great events and such like - was a deeper logic of logic of political evolution, that of the expansion of the English state. Through trade and war, England had acquired a mighty empire, within its own islands and across the oceans. Its key challenge was to hold it together: having lost its American colonies in the 18th century, how could it retain the rest of it settler dominions in the 20th century? Should it form an imperial federation to rival the rising states of Russia and America, and secure its unity?


It was not to be. The 20th century was a story of the contraction of England and the end of Empire.  But only now is the reverse logic of Seeley’s master narrative being fully realised. England has voted to leave the European Union and in so doing has imperilled her own union. The wound of Irish partition has been reopened and Scotland now faces the prospect of another independence referendum. Only Wales has stood with England in choosing to leave the European Union.

Empire gave Britain command of the global economy, until hegemony passed to the US. Trade and finance flows kept Britain afloat as it ceded industrial leadership to the US and Germany. Foreign direct investment and the City played the same role after we de-industrialised. Today, our economic weaknesses stand brutally exposed: Brexit has caused mayhem in the markets and a run on the pound.  As we adjust to the shock, we will become poorer.

What is England now? What is her role in the world?  Alas, the referendum debate told us nothing of these things; it was sour, parochial and mendacious. It has destroyed a Prime Minister and there is rubble everywhere.



"It ain't over till it's over."

📥  Brexit, EU membership, EU Referendum, Euroscepticism, future

the great unknown

Professor Graham Room, Director of Research, Professor of Social Policy, Department of Social & Policy Sciences

The people have spoken: they want out.  It is now incumbent on Parliament and Government to implement this decision: incumbent in a political – if not in a constitutional - sense.

It won’t be immediate: nor indeed will it be over by Christmas.  We will probably remain members of the EU through 2017 and 2018.  This is because we are members of the EU by international treaty and that treaty includes a specific procedure (Article 50 of the 2009 Lisbon treaty) for a member state wishing to leave.  This allows a country two years to negotiate the terms of its exit, from the moment it notifies the EU of its intention to leave. But once that notification is triggered, the clock begins ticking.  Negotiations cannot extend beyond the two-year notice period, unless all remaining EU member states agree.

What terms of exit are likely to be agreed? That will depend partly on what we say we want, but also on what the other EU countries are prepared to offer.

Stephen Kinnock has suggested that the pro-European majority in the Commons will want us to have EEA status, so that we retain access to the single market, and with it free movement and ECJ competence. That runs contrary to the Brexit campaign's twin themes of "restoring" sovereignty and ending free movement.  So what will Parliament decide?  But maybe that question will not arise, at least until the terms of exit have been agreed, between the EU and whatever UK government is then in office. After all, last winter Parliament had no role in endorsing the terms on which the PM sought to negotiate reforms with Brussels, nor was it asked to give its blessing to the deal he brought back and commended to the electorate.  So maybe Parliament will again be marginalised, in deciding our terms of exit.

What will the EU members be prepared to offer?  The Brexit campaigners argue that it will be in the interests of the EU to agree an early and generous exit agreement with the UK.  That is not self-evident.  Many expect the EU to negotiate a hard bargain, if only to discourage others who might think of heading for the exit, and in order to counter the right-wing nationalist elements which many of them face within their own countries.

There is however an additional reason to expect a hard bargain – in particular from our friends, who will most regret our departure.

The key question is this: will the UK Parliament and Government feel themselves obliged to persist with exit, no matter how hard the terms which the EU offers?  Or will they take the view that under those conditions they would have no alternative but to put those terms to a new referendum?  Nothing in the EU Treaty would prevent the UK government from doing this: and then allowing the result of that second referendum to abort the withdrawal process.

Is it not therefore possible that an informal alliance may now develop between the pro-European elites within the UK and their counterparts across Europe – aimed at ensuring that the deal which the EU offers is indeed meagre: in the knowledge that such a deal will oblige the government to put the terms on offer to a new referendum?  It is those terms on offer in 2018 that will thus prove far more important in the long run than those which Cameron brought back from Brussels to launch the referendum campaign.

True, that may sour the British public even more than it is at the moment: but that mood may turn against the Brexiteers rather than against the EU itself.  After all, by that stage the Brexiteers may well be prominent – if not dominant – within a post-Cameron Conservative government: facing a perfect storm of a deteriorating economy, renewed calls for Scottish independence and a public increasingly weary of their Euro-antics.   What a mess!!!

EU Referendum Opinion Piece: Please don’t go! A plea to historical reason from an American

📥  Brexit, EU membership, EU migrants, EU Referendum, EU renegotiation, Euroscepticism, migration, Uncategorised

Dr Jon Frost is Assistant Professor of Finance at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Originally from Seattle, he is a fan of British rock music and met his (German) wife while studying in Bath.

In one short week, British voters will take on historic responsibility for the future not only of their own country, but of Europe as a whole. With all the headlines about the economic implications, the role of political personalities and the latest polling numbers, I’d like to focus instead on historical arguments (as Goethe said, “he who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth.”) My contention is that leaving the EU would be an historic mistake, and the arguments in favour of “Leave” are myopic and flawed.

I’d like to start with migration. In the EU, the freedom of movement between EU countries has been a huge improvement to the quality of life of millions of Europeans, from the Swedish students with Summer jobs in Berlin, to the Spanish architects working in Amsterdam, to the British pensioners who have retired to Spain and the South of France. Surely the enormous benefits of this for many individuals are worth something. If Brexit supporters are sceptical toward the free movement of people or to immigration in general, then I hope the irony of this is not lost on them. The UK has exported tens of millions of its own citizens to other countries over the centuries (I’m not complaining; many of my own ancestors were among them). And the UK has benefited enormously from inward migration: many “great Britons” – from David Ricardo to Roald Dahl to Freddie Mercury – were the children of immigrants. Leaving the EU because of the arrival of a few hundred thousand Poles (who, incidentally, pay more in taxes in the UK than they receive benefits) seems like an overreaction.

A second issue is sovereignty. The way British politicians like Michael Gove talk about the EU, you would think that all decisions have now been transferred to Brussels and ordinary citizens have no control over what happens there. This is silly. First of all, the EU operates with the subsidiarity principle, by which EU actions are only justified when they are more effective than actions at a national, regional or local level. Second, the European Council is made up of elected national leaders, and the European Parliament is directly elected by voters. Finally, it is never clear which actual political decision the British Government would like to take but cannot due to EU obstacles. If “Brussels” would try to impose unjust laws on the UK (please name something more sinister than caps on bankers’ bonuses) then isn’t it possible that other EU countries would also protest, and that this could be settled through the political process? With the new package of concessions, the British Government has influence even for policy decisions on initiatives it is not participating in, e.g. in economic policy coordination in the euro area. When do other countries (the colonial period notwithstanding) give the UK that kind of say in their internal affairs?

Finally, there is the argument of British exceptionalism: many feel the UK “does not belong to Europe.” This argument is as commonly used as it is ill-founded. Britain’s intellectual heritage has been inspired in large part by continental thinkers – and vice versa. Fellow American and Anglophile Bill Bryson has noted with wonder what an out-sized influence the UK has had on science, the arts, political theory, economics and many other areas of human endeavour. But in all of these fields, British artists and thinkers have, to use Newton’s phrase, “stood on the shoulders of giants” – many of whom were European. Shakespeare took inspiration from Italy, Newton built his theories on the pioneering work of a Pole (Copernicus) and a German (Kepler), and the Beatles got their start in Hamburg. The UK’s exceptional openness to the world and to Europe have enabled the UK to make the scientific and cultural achievements that make it unique.

There have recently been many warnings of what the world could look like if voters choose to leave the EU. No one can predict the future and it is difficult to verify many of the claims; much would depend on political decisions in the UK and Europe after the referendum. But I am worried that with Brexit, the EU would lose an important country’s voice in European discussions. I am worried that other countries may decide that they, too, would like the benefits of free trade without any of the responsibility of helping to run a regional union. And I am worried about the implications for break-away regions – from Catalonia to Scotland. (Incidentally, it is ironic how some British politicians saying that the UK would be able to negotiate deals with the EU on trade are the same that had quite different views toward Scotland during their referendum in 2014).

In all of this, I hope British voters will think about one question: how would you like to tell future generations that you voted? In 1973-2016, the EU played no small part as democracy was entrenched, the Iron Curtain fell and peace was maintained across the European continent. In 50 years, people could look back on this period as the start of a long Pax Europaea – the precursor to an age in which EU countries came together to address climate change, the refugee crisis and geopolitical issues at Europe’s borders. Alternatively, they can look back on it as an unusually enlightened interlude before national bickering and egos tore Europe apart again. No one can say which scenario will come true. But I expect that a UK that remains in the EU, engages in European policy discussions, and contributes its perspective as an established democracy, would be both a more stable and prosperous country and an asset to the European project.

This Opinion Piece is the first in a series related to the EU Referendum debate taking place next week, 23rd June. If you would like to contribute a differing Opinion Piece, to present your ideas on what British Voters should consider before voting, please email James Harle to discuss.


What are the social forces and economic interests that make up the bases of support for remaining in the EU or leaving it?

📥  Brexit, Economy, employment, EU membership, EU Referendum, Euroscepticism, Germany

Today sees the publication of the IPR's referendum policy brief, a document that brings together contributions from a number of academics with the purpose of informing readers about the issues at stake in the EU referendum. Many of these issues are not new, but the way they are debated has changed dramatically over time.

In the 1960s and 1970s, it was the Conservative Party that led Britain into membership of the European Economic Community. Seeking a new anchor for Britain’s geo-political interests after decolonisation and the fiasco of Suez, and despairing of the capacity of Britain’s post-war Keynesian economic settlement to solve its class conflicts, Conservative leaders orientated towards Europe’s successful social market models. The Labour Party went along with this reluctantly: for the most part, it remained Eurosceptic and wedded to the idea that the unitary British state was the vehicle for social progress. But by holding a referendum on Britain’s membership of the common market in 1975, it was able to paper over its internal divisions.

Both positions were upended by Thatcherism, which imposed a new political economic settlement on the UK that dispensed with the coordination of class interests, while shifting to a more aggressive Atlanticism in foreign policy. Europe was no longer a source of inspiration for economic policy, but instead an enlarged free market for British trade. Manufacturing declined – although foreign direct investment in key sectors like automotives was facilitated on the basis that the UK had access to the European market – and a new growth model was created, which had the finance sector, centred on the City, and consumption-led services, with a prominent role for the housing market, at its heart. In turn, this changed the terrain for the British left, which came to see Europe as a means for renewing social partnership in the economy, and as a post-national platform for revitalising the Keynesian project of full employment and investment-led growth in conditions of globalisation. Euroscepticism waned on the left, as it waxed on the right.

Thatcher’s settlement helps illuminate the balance of forces in the contemporary EU referendum campaign. The big investment banks and the main financial service interests in the City are firmly in favour of Remain: Britain’s membership of the European Union cements their dominance in Europe, and passports their UK regulatory regime into the single market. The prominence of finance services in Britain’s post-Thatcher economic model – and the taxes they contribute to the financing of public services – ensures that their interests have considerable political support. Pro-Europeanism in the City is in part a legacy of the 1980s Big Bang.

Similarly, access to the single market explains the solid support for the EU amongst large companies, in both manufacturing and service sectors. This is particularly true of foreign-owned enterprises, such as Japanese and Indian car manufacturers, and explains why the private sector trade unions in British manufacturing are strongly in favour of remaining in the EU. Their interests lie in retaining access to the single market too (if Thatcherism had an industrial strategy of any kind, it was to secure foreign direct investment in ailing sectors like car making, and to ensure that the British defence industries were strong; ironically, companies in these sectors are now strongly pro-European). Service sector companies that have become heavily reliant on EU migrant labour – particularly in the agriculture, food processing, and hospitality sectors – are also largely pro-European. So too are the public sector unions, but this is largely the result of the social protections afforded by EU law. Where membership of the EU appears to threaten their employment interests – as with, for example, the argument that the proposed EU-US trade deal, TTIP, will open up the NHS to private sector competition – they can tilt towards Euroscepticism.

What then are the social bases for leaving the EU? Non-exporting service sector companies and small businesses are more likely to be Eurosceptic (Wetherspoons may be considered emblematic of the former). The ranks of the self-employed, and those workers outside the unionised public and private sectors who are most exposed to wage competition from EU migrants, are more likely to be Eurosceptic. Before the financial crisis, a combination of consumption-led wage growth, tax credits and household debt upheld their incomes; post-crisis they have seen their wages and incomes squeezed. They are fertile territory for the “take control” message of the Leave campaign – just as many responded with alacrity to the property owning democracy discourses of the 1980s.

Indeed, in recent polls, the strongest support for leaving the EU has come from semi-skilled and unskilled working class voters, in particular the categories of C2 and D social class voters used by pollsters. ICM’s latest phone poll had 62% of C2s in favour of leaving, compared to 24% for Remain (EU referendum weighted, certain to vote) – the highest of any age or class demographic.  The latest ORB poll for the Daily Telegraph had similar figures: of all those definite to vote, and excluding don’t knows, 60% of C2s were in favour of leaving (compared to 40% for Remain) as were 61% of social class D voters (compared to 39% for Remain). Remain chalks up similar leads amongst social classes A and B (whereas interestingly social class E was much more evenly split).

On their own, these voters would not have sufficient electoral muscle to swing the referendum in the UK against the social bloc in favour of staying in. But they are buttressed by the retired population of older voters, who are much more Eurosceptic than their children and grandchildren. Their high turnout rates at elections makes them a key constituency.

A similar electoral logic is at work in Germany, where older, socially conservative voters are deserting the SPD and CDU, whom together represent the dominant pro-European social bloc of organised workers and employers in the leading export sectors, as well as the unionised public sector. Over the last two decades, German workers have traded real wage increases for external competitiveness and high employment, ensuring that Germany has a large surplus with the rest of the Eurozone. But deflation has undercut the returns to savings for retired Germans, while the refugee crisis has added a cultural-conservative component to their discontents. They are turning increasingly Eurosceptic. Recent comparative political economy goes a long way to helping us understand these European debates in the UK and other European countries, such as Germany, but it needs supplementing with the political science literature to account for the allegiances of different voting groups, such as older voters.

Older voters’ concerns are cultural and democratic, rather than driven by their labour market position – though they prize economic security. Whether they will vote on the latter, rather than the former, will be a major factor in determining the outcome of the referendum.



Many of these same issues are examined in more detail in the IPR referendum policy brief, which can be found here. This collection of pieces by academics at the University of Bath gives a wider view of Britain’s referendum, and focusses on major policy questions the UK faces in making an informed judgement about its EU membership.


Britain in Europe: between self-interested cynicism and narrow-minded nationalism?

📥  banking, Brexit, EU membership, EU migrants, EU Referendum, EU renegotiation, Euroscepticism

Dr Theodoros Papadopoulos, Lecturer, Department of Social & Policy Sciences

As part of a module I used to teach called ‘Policy and Power’, I used video extracts from the well-known 1980s series Yes Minister to spark discussion in the class. One of my favourite ones was a dialogue between Sir Humphrey and Minister Hacker on UK policy towards what was then called the European Economic Community. It went like this:

Sir Humphrey: Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last five hundred years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see. Why should we change now, when it's worked so well?

Hacker: That's all ancient history, surely?

Sir Humphrey: Yes, and current policy. We 'had' to break the whole thing [the EEC] up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn't work. Now that we're inside we can make a complete pig's breakfast of the whole thing: set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch... The Foreign Office is terribly pleased; it's just like old times.

Hacker: But surely we're all committed to the European ideal?

Sir Humphrey: [chuckles] Really, Minister.

Hacker: If not, why are we pushing for an increase in the membership?

Sir Humphrey: Well, for the same reason. It's just like the United Nations, in fact; the more members it has, the more arguments it can stir up, the more futile and impotent it becomes.

Hacker: What appalling cynicism.

Sir Humphrey: Yes... We call it diplomacy, Minister.

Yes, Minister, Episode Five: The Writing on the Wall[1]

Following the end of the video extract, I would always eagerly await the reactions of the students in the class, which often included a good number of international students. Many of the British students would laugh at the cynicism of Sir Humphrey but would recognise in it familiar themes of British foreign policy, at least in the distant past. The rest of the class, comprising international students and a sizeable minority of British students, would listen to this extract in quiet disbelief; some would almost find it embarrassing.

What became a familiar pattern over the years, however, was that for both groups of students this type of strategic engagement with Europe would be perceived as very old-fashioned. Like my generation, students saw themselves more as part of ‘Europe’ than outside it; being a European for them, as for me, was just one more page in their ‘identity book’. They saw themselves as British/French/German/Italian and European. Like my generation, they had not witnessed a war between the main Western European countries. Instead, they had experienced holidays in nice sunny Southern Europe, made friendships with other Europeans due to the Erasmus academic exchange programmes, and perceived Europe not as a threatening or an alien place, but as part of their future: a safe, prosperous place where they could travel freely; where they could study and work; and where their political, economic and social rights were guaranteed. So convinced were they of these benefits that some of them even planned to seek jobs and build their careers in other member states. It was a Europe that set an example of how to make the world a better place, and offered a vision of hope and good life, where cynicism and nationalism had little place.

That was the feeling until about 2010, when the financial crisis was already underway. Greece’s troubles were starting to be front-page news – and UKIP began to be taken seriously following the 2009 European Parliament election, where they elected 13 MEPs. Scepticism became more evident in the class, although interestingly my students were not sceptical about Europe per se, but rather the particular version of Europe that seemed to have emerged. Over the last few years we have all seen how Greek democracy was (and is)  treated by the institutions of the EU, ECD and IMF; how precarious and underpaid are the few new jobs created by our weak European economies, especially for young people; how cynically and xenophobically most European Union countries reacted to the refugees from the war-torn Middle East; and how banks and financial institutions seem to be getting away with everything while our future, with agreements like TTIP, is negotiated behind closed doors. Very few were really surprised when cynicism and nationalism came back with a vengeance.

In June 2016, my students and I will be faced with a referendum that puts to the test not only our long-held beliefs about Europe, but our experience of Europe today. As a British citizen – of Greek descent, but who is also not afraid to call himself an engaged European citizen – I find profoundly problematic how poor the quality of the debate over the referendum has been so far, how little vision the ‘stay in’ campaign has, and how sadly lacking has been the promotion of both what we Europeans have all shared for so many years and what we can achieve in the future as Europeans. To defend Europe on the grounds that it makes better economic sense for us to remain, or on the grounds that whatever happens we, in Britain, can always opt out and will always have our special deal, is to negate our and the next generations’ voices calling for a different Europe, a Europe of hope, socio-economic security and justice. This referendum and its implications goes beyond winning the ‘in or out’ argument; it is about a vision for another Europe that is still possible. We should not – and cannot afford to – let it die crashed between self-interested cynicism and narrow-minded nationalism.

[1] https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Yes,_Minister#Episode_Five:_The_Writing_on_the_Wall


Dr Emma Carmel: 'Migration and EU membership'

📥  Brexit, David Cameron, employment, EU membership, EU migrants, EU Referendum, labour market, migration, Uncategorised

Dr Emma Carmel, Senior Lecturer, Department of Social & Policy Sciences

The political arguments around EU membership and migration have the qualities of children’s playdough: eye-catchingly bright, highly malleable, and good to keep us busy for a while. Unfortunately, also like children’s playdough, they turn dull and crusty, and have a tendency to fall to bits if left out in the air too long.

From 2014-2015 David Cameron and his Eurosceptic Work & Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan-Smith, pursued a strategy of restricting benefits to EU migrants. In its first phase, this was a ‘domestic’ strategy: it focused on changing UK benefit regulations for EU migrants. Accordingly, there were 11 changes to benefit administration rules from January 2014 to the end of 2015, all designed to make it difficult for EU migrants to access social benefits. None of these measures required new legislation, and they were entirely in accordance with EU law and regulations.  No-one from the EU had ever stopped the UK from introducing these regulations, and restricting access to benefits for migrants was not something that had been high on voters’ agendas.



So how did the agenda get there and what purpose was served by these measures?

Well, the topic of migration was on voters’ agendas. Cameron and IDS chose to make a rather spurious and inflammatory, but politically convenient argument: that high levels of benefit (not true) and easy access to benefit (not true) in the UK made it uniquely attractive as a destination for EU migrants (not true). They then showed that the government ‘was doing something’ to restrict EU migration by restricting access to benefits.

Yet the changes in regulations, and the arguments justifying them, achieved a number of other things too. They added an easy rhetorical boost to the government’s wider anti-welfare agenda, which assumes that people in receipt of benefits (unless they are pensioners) are frequently fraudulent, and need punitive treatment. In doing so, they enhanced the generalised fictitious division of society into ‘hard-working families’ and ‘welfare scroungers’. This is important because the identity of ‘hard-working families’ is so central to the Conservatives’ political positioning. (The division is fictitious because many ‘hard-working families’ are also in receipt of social benefits for disability, care, or by virtue of being in low-paid jobs and overpriced housing markets. Their family members also experience spells of time without work.) The benefit regulation changes also dovetailed neatly with demands for budget cuts, especially to housing benefit, which is paid out by severely cash-strapped local authorities.

So it turns out that the argument about ‘migration and benefits’ was only partly about EU migrants. They in any case tend to have higher employment rates than UK citizens, making them more ‘hard-working families’ than ‘welfare scroungers’. However, it set up the context for Cameron’s campaign to ‘re-negotiate’ the UK’s membership of the EU in the run-up to the referendum.

This campaign, which really got underway in 2015, developed a new theme: restricting access to in-work benefits (formerly known as tax credits). The negotiations eventually garnered agreement that member states can invoke an ‘emergency brake’ on the rights of free-moving workers. What this means in practice is that the UK can argue that it faces problems from the migration of EU citizens to the UK, for example with pressure on housing or public services. If such a case is acknowledged by other member states, it can restrict new entrants’ access to tax credits. It still cannot restrict EU citizens’ right to enter, reside and work in the UK. However, this is a very unsavoury political agreement. Let’s see why.

By excluding new EU migrants from tax credits for four years, those same ‘hard-working’ migrants who were previously distinguished from the ‘welfare scroungers’, are corralled into a (more) subordinate position in the UK labour market, along with 18-24 year-olds. New EU migrants in low-paid employment will end up with lower household income than equivalent UK workers and already-resident EU nationals. The number of migrants to the UK will only be affected at the margins, if at all[1]. EU migrants come to the UK for many reasons, but those in low-paid jobs – i.e. those of concern to the government – take up such employment in a labour market that thrives on the availability of lower-paid and flexible workers. Excluding new migrants from tax credits makes no difference to these wider conditions. Except that now those new migrant workers will have to work even more hours to stay above the poverty line. The planned gradual increases to the minimum wage for over-25s will eventually raise such EU workers’ incomes, but it is clear that the ‘emergency brake’ was more about benefits and public expenditure cuts than it was about reducing incentives for migration.

For the Bremain camp, the ‘emergency brake’ satisfies, as it needed to, the foundational requirement in the EU for free movement of workers. This requirement was in place before the UK even joined the EU, and it has been more highly specified over the years, as a key attribute of ‘barrier-free’ trade and the single market. Yet it is precisely this requirement that exposes the contradictory position loudly pursued by the Brexit camp, mostly, but not only, from the right.

Such Brexiteers want to restrict migration from the EU, and reject the brake as inadequate. Yet they also want access to ‘barrier-free’ trade and the single market. Without free movement of workers, however, there is no barrier-free trade. Of course, any outcome of a leave vote is deeply uncertain, because it is subject to negotiation with the other 27 members of the Union. However, no other state with access to the single market has negotiated out of the requirement for free movement of workers. The terms of a looser trade agreement would permit restrictions on migration, although the terms of such an agreement are, if anything, more uncertain.

It seems that the malleable political arguments about migration and the EU are, in the end, rather straightforward. They are, broadly speaking: how can we restrict migration from the EU versus how can we claim to be restricting migration from the EU (by cutting benefits)?

Migrants to the UK, whether from the EU or elsewhere, contribute to its social life and its public services, as well as to its economy, as doctors, dentists, nurses, carers, cleaners, coffee-shop staff, beauticians, factory workers, farm workers, pharmacists, restaurant staff, academics, bus and delivery drivers, warehouse packers, teaching assistants, oh yes – and plumbers. There are, of course, real challenges to public services when faced with a growing population and public budget cuts. There are challenges for the UK economy faced with growing its employment through precarious, low-paid and low-skill work. There are challenges for workers and communities facing such job opportunities, from school leavers to debt-burdened graduates. But these challenges are not caused by migrants from the EU. They are shared by migrants from the EU. They are also shared by many EU citizens in their home countries. It is time to put the playdough political debate about migration behind us and retrieve a more honest political analysis of the underlying challenges facing the UK, in or out of the Union.

This blog post is part of a new IPR Series – all related to the BREXIT debate and the EU Referendum. This collection of commissioned blog posts will be published as an IPR Policy Brief in May 2016. Sign up to the IPR blog to get the latest blog posts, or to join our mailing list to receive invitations to our events and copies of our Policy Briefs.
[1] Portes, J. (2016) ‘Immigration, free movement and the EU referendum’, National Institute Economic Review 236 p. 14-22