The EU talks mainly to itself and to its elites

The latest EU Parliament elections offered a new milestone for assessing the efficiency of its institutional communication. In this blog, Jorge Tuñón and Uxía Carral (Carlos III) argue that the failures of EU’s communication efforts can be ameliorated if the European Union substantially reforms its institutional communication regarding the main challenges ahead: the creation of a European public sphere, the identity crisis, the multilingualism, Brexit, the Euro-myths, and fake news. They analyse how European institutions have been speaking to the European population about the issues above. 

This investigation focuses on measuring the impact of EU’s communication to the audiences of three countries (Germany, United Kingdom and Spain). With regard to the analysis, we argue that it is fundamental to take into consideration the socio-political and economic frameworks, as well as the differentiating sense of belonging which citizens of each country show towards the European integration process. Additionally, the analysis of social networks uncovers new narratives that European institutions have been using to appeal the youngest audiences in order to combat populism and Euroscepticism.

There is no doubt that these days the EU has the duty to make its actions known across different mediums, among which social media appear to be crucial to connect political actors with society. This may be seen as one of an essential strategy of political communication of a supranational entity such as the EU. Consequently, our work highlights how the representative offices of the EU in Germany, United Kingdom and Spain use the social network Twitter as the main platform to inform, communicate, involve and to sway the opinions and the national public agendas of the Member States. We find that the Europhile or the Eurosceptic feelings that prevail in each country determinate EU’s communication in these Member States. Furthermore, specific communication tendencies have been detected for each country regarding four aspects analysed (frequencies, functions, contents, and sources).

With regard to word frequencies, we show that the geographical and political distance with respect to the European decision-making processes incentives the use of Twitter as a communication tool. Accordingly, the same size of the sample for an identical period of time, as well as the quantity of followers shows that, firstly, the geographical distance (Spain) and then, the political one (United Kingdom) positively conditions the use of the social network Twitter by the EU. It is also presumed that a deeper analysis of the engagement data (comments, Rt and likes) would validate the hypothesis for both cases. In contrast, the percentage change of frequencies in the EU’s representative offices in Germany revealed contradictory management of their profiles. There is a higher number of interactions and provision of own content in the Commission account than in the Parliament’s account.

Graphic 1 / Results from the frequencies for the cases of Berlin, London and Madrid EC an EP

Moreover, crossing the variables of frequencies (Graphic 1) and contents (Graphic 3), it can be claimed that, although the EU Commission uses Twitter more frequent than the EU Parliament, the reach is quite similar due to little differentiation between the message sent by each profile. The impact of these accounts on Twitter does not differ considerably due to the homogeneity of content and themes published by either the office of the EU Commission or the EU Parliament. Nevertheless, in terms of frequencies, we observe a superior use frequency for the EU Commission than the EU Parliament accounts in the three countries analysed.

Graphic 2 / Results from the contents for the cases of Berlin, London and Madrid EC an EP


Furthermore, Euroscepticism determines the message regarding content and its function. Indeed, the discrepancies within the degree of Europeanization, or the development of the Eurosceptic movement, have been revealed as determinants in each country. On the one hand, we found an exclusive theme concentration about the relationship between the EU and the Member State, and the citizenry, as well as a lack of attention to EU policies, in both accounts belonging to the EU institutions located in London. Those results were contrasted with the ones in Berlin and Madrid, which had a more widespread thematic covergar and, concretely, a broader focus on EU policies, and less interest in EU politics and the EU as a political project.

There is also a difference with regard to the achievements category at the functions level. Particularly, it seems to be necessary for the institutional profiles in the UK to report about the EU’s achievements because of Brexit and the Eurosceptic climate. This phenomenon derives from the negative impact of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, as well as the interest of the EU delegation to counteract any kind of misinformation and fake news. In contrast, Berlin-based offices attribute the lack of insistence in promoting EU’s objectives to the faith in the European process among the German population. Such an explanation is also shared by the Spanish entities, which is further explained by the geographical and political proximity to the European institutions and to the European decision-making processes.

Graphic 3 / Results from the functions for the cases of Berlin, London and Madrid EC an EP

However, EU’s information strategy is one-directional. It is aimed towards a limited audience comprised of political or institutional elites and does not involve other actors/stakeholders from any of the three states. Effectively, the involvement of any actor except the representatives of the EU institutions is practically nonexistent. Neither civil society associations, nor journalists or academics have had any involvement in the production, management, or dissemination of the information published via Twitter and targeted at the national audiences of the three countries.

Graphic 4 / Results from the actors for the cases of Berlin, London and Madrid EC and EP

Therefore, we find that the EU talks to itself and to its elites, but not to EU citizenry en masse. The ‘European message’ sent out by the EU institutions in member states is unidirectional and does not represent or involve the variety of actors comprising European society. Political and institutional actors dominate the communication efforts of EU offices in Berlin, London and Madrid. There is a glaring lack of involvement of civil society, the academy or the press, among other stakeholders, in this process.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE. Image License: CC0 Public Domain.

This research is a part of two projects funded by the European Agency for Education, Culture and Audiovisual (EACEA) of the European Commission, Jean Monnet (Erasmus +): Jean Monnet Module EUCOPOL (reference: 587167-EPP-1-2017-1-ES-EPPJMO-MODULE); and Jean Monnet Network OPENEUDEBATE (reference: 600465-EPP-1-2018-1-ES-EPPJMO-NETWORK). This article is also part of another project (FAKENEWS) funded by the Spanish Research Agency, from the Science, Innovation and Universities department (Reference: RTI2018-097709-B-I00).

Jorge Tuñón is European Ph. D., Lecturer at the University of Madrid (Carlos III) and consultant on European Public Affairs and Communication. He is External Expert of the EU Parliament and EU Commission evaluator. At current, he belongs to the OPENEUDEBATE EU network and leads the European Project “EU Communication Policy: challenge or miracle? EUROPEAN COMMISSION – ERAMUS +, (EUCOPOL).

Uxía Carral is a postgraduate student in Applied Research to Mass Media at the University Carlos III of Madrid. At current, she is a PhD candidate focused on European public sphere and Eurosceptic phenomena (Brexit, populism, etc.). Previously, she has worked for the European OPENEUDEBATE and EUCOPOL projects.

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Book Review: Citizens of Nowhere: How Europe can be Saved from Itself by Lorenzo Marsili and Niccolo Milanese

In Citizens of Nowhere: How Europe can be Saved from ItselfLorenzo Marsili and Niccolo Milanese offer an innovative look at citizenship, grounded in the development of a transnational civil society sphere across Europe. This is an ambitious, perceptive and clear-sighted argument for a transnational citizenship and politics, writes Ben Margulies, that also details the political project required to make it a reality. 

Citizens of Nowhere: How Europe can be Saved from Itself. Lorenzo Marsili and Niccolo Milanese. Zed Books. 2018.

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Politics is a realm of abstract nouns and concepts, and we often use or pass over these without too much interrogation. ‘Citizenship’ is among these terms. It is a legal status, or a vague exhortation to public-spiritedness, or a legal burden to acquire or overcome.

This is unfortunate, because the institution of citizenship is especially relevant to the dilemmas and grievances of modern politics. Citizenship is what Isaiah Berlin would characterise as a form of ‘positive liberty’ – a freedom to do something, specifically to actively participate in the acts and processes of governance. If the chief complaints of the populist age are a sense of powerlessness and neglect, then citizenship is an obvious solution.

But citizenship of what? Populists – left and especially those designated ‘radical right’ – typically answer with ‘the people’ or ‘the nation’. Those populists on the radical right seek to make that citizenship meaningful by drawing thick borders around the body of citizens (‘nativism’) and by advocating direct democracy over the representative sort. Centre-right politicians have also embraced this framework in a bid to meet citizen dissatisfaction – this is what Theresa May meant in her 2016 party conference speech, when she said:

But today, too many people in positions of power behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass in the street. If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.

May’s speech provides the launchpad for Citizens of Nowhere: How Europe Can Be Saved from Itself, an innovative look at citizenship from authors Lorenzo Marsili and Niccolo Milanese published by Zed Books. Marsili and Milanese are London-based activists and the founders of European Alternatives, which encourages the development of a transnational civil society sphere across Europe.

Marsili and Milanese’s work extrapolates from sources and arguments which have been aired elsewhere in the debate over Europe’s future. Where their book shines, however, is in analysing the relationship between citizenship and governance – not just the nation state, but the means and institutions by which we are governed.

Marsili and Milanese’s core argument is that citizenship is only meaningful in relation to the fact of being governed. This means that nation-state citizenship is no longer uniquely relevant, because ‘the governing political elites are spread between international and non-national institutions and authorities’ (83). Since citizenship is only truly valuable as a means of self-government and accountability, then national citizenship is insufficient – it cannot provide self-government in a context where much of government occurs beyond the nation state, or beyond any state, in the realm of the global market. Without some sort of transnational citizenship, most people lack any agency: ‘the vast majority of us are ‘‘citizens of nowhere’’ to some extent, and we will remain so until we invent political forms of agency that are equal to the forces shaping our world’ (4). This disempowerment also prevents us from imagining alternative futures to the neoliberal order, and this too makes us ‘citizens of nowhere’, as ‘meaningful political citizenship requires the possibility of acting in support of what currently seems impossible’ (12).

Image Credit: (Pixabay CC0)

Citizens of Nowhere offers a detailed exposition of how a focus on the national impedes effective political campaigning and organisation. On the one hand, fantasies of seceding from the global market and creating an autarkic nationalist bastion cannot work. A nation state could withdraw from common monetary, commercial or juridical agreements:

But given that each state would remain subject to some of the governance authorities and would need to trade with others, cooperate militarily, rely on international law and so on, the harm to which they would subject themselves by leaving some elements of the international system would surely undermine internal support for pulling out totally (82)

At the same time, existing transnational institutions are designed to exclude democratic participation and contestation. The end result is a nationally focused politics which obscures the common economic condition of those exploited under neoliberalism, and the common political condition of ‘being governed’, citing Michel Foucault (148).

The book also contains a number of interesting passages on the various threats to and manipulations of citizenship. Massili and Milanese devote a chapter to how citizenship has been devalued by its sale to wealthy investors, and by the willingness of states to strip nationality from citizens on national security grounds (creating ‘disposable citizens’). States also claim – as May did – that citizenship cannot exist unless borders are closed and harshly policed to keep outsiders from accessing its privileges. Citizenship becomes not a right to do anything for oneself, but to exclude and punish others – because that is all that citizens under neoliberalism are really allowed to do. ‘Sovereignty is configured as the power to decide who loses their rights’ (148).

What really shines through in the text is the idea that citizenship cannot be fully national, because it rests ultimately on a fundamental conception of human equality. Massili and Milanese link the concept back to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), the first French human-rights legislation. The authors observe that this declaration spoke not of French rights, but universal rights, and that the revolutionary regime freely granted citizenship to noted foreign liberals until 1793 (137-39). Thus, migrants are citizens because all human beings are.

The authors’ solution to the gap between citizens and the transnational system that rules them is to create a ‘transnational’ party. This party, like the neoliberal elite, would be ‘promiscuous’ in its activities – it would act at all levels of governance (national and supranational), and in both governmental and non-governmental spheres. ‘The party would be placed simultaneously beyond and between formal institutions of state and politics’, and ‘would care for all the ways in which politics is conducted outside the institutions’ (194). It would transcend ‘inter-national’ approaches that take nation states as the main actors in supranational politics, and it would create the subject, the demos, necessary for such a transnational democratic politics (‘for a democracy, you do not need a people, you need parties!’ (190)).

Of course, everyone wants an open, liberal party rooted in a vibrant grassroots activism. Every political activist – or, at least, those who tend to call themselves progressive – wants their party to be ‘a space of coordination and collaboration’ with a mission to ‘multiply civic energy by creating connections’ (199), rather than a top-down structure reminiscent of Robert Michels’s ‘iron law of oligarchy’. In practice, the literature doesn’t give Massili and Milanese much cause for hope – typically, left-wing parties that grow from or in tandem with social movements, like Podemos (Spain), Syriza (Greece) or the Workers’ Party (Brazil), find that, once in power, they tend to draw the social movement activists into office and focus on electoral concerns. The grassroots tend to wither as a result. One of Podemos’s early notables complained in Jacobin recently about how the party had few militants and an insular, elitist leadership.

Citizens of Nowhere has a few flaws. The discussion of neoliberalism, though necessary, is something of a potted history. The authors also have a tendency to speak of neoliberalism as if it were a unitary actor, manipulating national differences in order to befuddle and frustrate the common people. Though neoliberal elites are certainly capable of a bit of national chauvinism, this rhetoric incorrectly implies that neoliberal elites act in concert, which Brexit surely disproved. It also implies that neoliberal politicians and economists are not themselves socialised to nationalism, embodying the contradictions between the national and the international in themselves. Again, the desire from a post-Brexit ‘global Britain’ would seem to illustrate this point.

Though the authors’ overview of history and contemporary politics is a bit uninspired, Citizens of Nowhere is nevertheless an ambitious and perceptive book. It advances an innovative and clear-sighted argument for a transnational citizenship and politics, and a detailed political project for making that citizenship a reality. The question at hand is whether that project can outpace the nationalist, nativist turn of our contemporary politics.

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This article is provided by our sister site, LSE Review of Books. It gives the views of the author, not the position of LSE Brexit or the London School of Economics.

Ben Margulies is a lecturer in political science at the University of Brighton. He was previously a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Warwick. He specialises in European, comparative and party politics.

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The future of UK services trade is unlikely to be bright, whatever form Brexit takes

When it comes to trade in services, leaving the Single Market will result in increased regulatory costs and could have significant effects on the volume and composition of UK services exports, writes Olga Pindyuk.

In the Brexit debate, trade in services has been largely overlooked in favour of trade in goods. This is despite the UK being the second biggest exporter of services in the world and having one of the highest shares in total exports among leading economies (Figure 1). Moreover, the EU is a major market for UK services, having accounted for about 49% of the country’s total services exports in 2017.

When talking about sector specialisation of services exporters, London as the UK’s financial hub comes to mind. But the UK is competitive in a broad range of services, with ‘other business services’ – a combination of legal, accounting, management consulting, and public relations services – being most prominent in cross-border trade, having accounted for 33.5% of the sector’s total exports in 2016 according to WTO data. The second biggest subsector is architectural, engineering, scientific, and other technical services (14.6%), followed by advertising, market research, and public opinion polling services (10.1%). In the transport sector, air transport accounts for almost two-thirds of exports.

As a member of the Single Market, the UK has access to a market of over 500 million consumers, to the free flow of data between EU members, and to passporting rights, which allow financial companies to sell services in any EU country without having to set up a branch there. In other words, the Single Market allows the UK to supply more services through cross-border trade rather than through costly commercial presence. Passporting rights are also a very important reason why the UK has been used as an EU base by US and Japanese financial firms.

Important for the professional services sector is also the free movement of people. For example, UK companies can employ European staff in the UK or send their workers on trips to the EU to consult clients, provide technical support to users of their products, broker and draft contracts, and so on. As migration concerns were crucial for the Brexit vote, movement restrictions are probably the most binding constraint on the government, making free movement unlikely to be a part of any deal, which significantly limits the options available for the services trade.

If the UK opts for a divorce that precludes it from participation in the Single Market in services, it will inevitably face increased regulatory costs: relevant providers in the UK will face heterogenous regulations in each Member State, which implies an increase in trading costs. With a rise in cross-border trade barriers there would also be a relative increase in the proportion of services provided via a more costly commercial presence within the EU. The process has already started due to the political uncertainty that has surrounded Brexit since 2016, and has so far been most visible in the financial sector where more than 250 firms have moved or are moving business elsewhere.

The biggest losses would take place if the country crashed out of the EU without any agreement and had to trade with the bloc on WTO terms, which envisage a very limited scope of liberalisation under the General Agreement on Trade in Services. Even concluding a free trade agreement with the EU will result in a significant rise in the barriers to services trade – the EU’s recent agreement with South Korea and Japan, for example, does not address regulatory issues around authorisations and licensing, with processes varying between Member States.

It is nonetheless possible that Brexit could result in more advanced services liberalisation than previous EU agreements. But in order to achieve this, any preferential access to the EU market that the UK might seek will need to be part of a comprehensive agreement, otherwise the EU may be obliged to extend more favourable conditions to its other trading partners according to the most favoured nation principle. Politically feasible options of such an agreement are deals similar to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement or CETA+, which offer limited scope of liberalisation. The UK could possibly secure mutual recognition that would cover some professional qualifications and licensing for various sectors. Still, the scope of a deal will most likely be limited.

Comparison of the values of the OECD Services Trade Restriction Index for intra- and extra-EEA trade (Figure 2) shows that countries outside the Single Market face the highest barriers to trade with EEA members in air transport and a range of professional services: legal, accounting, architecture, and engineering. It is in these sectors that the UK is likely to experience the highest increase in trade costs.

The US is the most important market for UK services exporters outside the EU (20.5% of total services exports in 2017), but substantial reorientation of British services exports to this and other non-EU markets is unlikely as geography matters to services trade almost as much as to trade in goods. This is due to factors such as the need of face-to-face interactions, the inconvenience of operating in different time zones and so on, all of which tend to result in services exports being quite localised geographically.

Just how severely Brexit will affect the services trade will depend on the form it takes; however, it seems increasingly likely that under all feasible options the UK will face increased regulatory costs.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE. The full report on which the above draws can be read here. The post appeared first on LSE British Politics and Policy. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

Olga Pindyuk is an Economist at the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies.

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Despicable migrants? UK’s treatment of foreign criminals will only harden after Brexit

An increasing number of EU nationals who have committed crimes find themselves being deported. In the context of the UK’s tortured departure from the EU, the deportation of foreign criminals has become a touchstone of British notions of the public goodwrites Nevena Nancheva (Kingston University London). She argues that the UK has effectively curtailed the rights of what it sees as a particularly despicable group of migrants – foreign criminals. Rather than looking at its own inequalities, it has chosen to tighten its physical and invisible borders. 

Britain used to deport its criminals. In fact, it used to deport all ‘wicked and evil-disposed persons’ whom the judges were too merciful to execute instantaneously for a long list of crimes against property, or indeed, for being idle or seeking employment, as section V of the Transportation Act of 1717 mandates. Such offenders were transported originally to the West Indies (where they habitually neglected to stay), then to America (a secret often brushed under the carpet by American historians and politicians alike), then, amidst the turmoil of American revolution and to prevent the French from extending their empire, to Australia in 1787.

In those days, the dispossessed, the idle, the vagrant, the lewd fell into the category of criminals because they threatened the established social order. They were bound for expulsion to protect sovereign landowners, the common good, and the good society. The mobile, in particular, were frowned upon as ‘the chrysalis for every species of criminal’. From a longue durée historical perspective, Bridget Anderson spends a lot of time unpacking the link between vagrancy and criminality in Britain, positioning the migrant as essentially a ‘failed citizen’.

Today, we begrudgingly agree that our criminals, petty or not, are our own problem and should not be dumped on indigenous peoples around the world. (That is, unless we can strip them of their citizenship and invite Bangladesh to deal with them!) Foreign criminals, however, are a totally different matter: a cause célèbre for a host of Labour and Tory leaders, the deportation of foreign criminals has gradually become the norm, rather than the exception to the rule.

Changing the rule book

The notion of Britain’s ‘public good’ has remained intrinsically linked to this development: under the 1971 Immigration Act, non-citizens are liable to deportation if this is deemed to be ‘conducive to the public good’ (section 3(5)). There is no explicit mention of criminality in this law, but the 2007 UK Borders Act amends the omission by explaining that ‘the deportation of a foreign criminal is conducive to the public good’ for the purposes of the above (section 32).

The amendment came after a string of scandals and heated public debates over the fate of some 1,023 foreigners who had been released from British prisons into society since 1999, rather than considered for deportation, costing the office of the then Home Secretary Charles Clarke. It is perhaps not coincidental that these discussions arose in the process of EU enlargement to the 10 former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe. Even though regions in turmoil (such as Somalia) or human rights (e.g. international refugee protection) were cited at the time as constraints on deporting foreign criminals, Charles Clarke went on to write a book about the threat of migration within the EU, capturing a long-standing concern of the British public with the open borders and the freedom of movement which the EU seemed to be all about.

The invisible boundaries of Britain

In the context of Brexit and UK’s tortured extraction from the EU, the deportation of foreign criminals has become an interesting touchstone of British notions of the public good: that elusive abstraction which pits the lives and rights of concrete men, women and children against a fuzzy and imagined, but clearly incomparably more significant, entity: the nation. In 2018, I conducted a pilot study of the impact of deportation on the families of foreign criminals in the designated foreign nationals male prison HMP Maidstone. What I discovered in my conversations with matter-of-fact prison wives, is that the law is implemented with implicit disregard for the integrity of their families and the welfare of their children. That the much-lauded ‘public good’, upheld in the letters from the Home Office and the decisions by the judges, should trump the best interests of these families points to the boundaries of Britain’s community of value. As the Brexit dynamics narrows these boundaries, the distinctions between those who clearly do not belong (such as foreign criminals) and those who should belong but are not really welcome (such as EU nationals) become blurred.

Image: author’s, Walls of HMP Maidstone, The Visits Building (1819).

No Article 8 rights for foreign criminals

Even the immigration-control-obsessed 2007 UK Borders Act provides an exception (section 33(2)(a)) to the deportation of foreign criminals in cases where the removal of an individual would breach his or her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, in particular the right to family and private life under Article 8. Before a decision for deportation was made, the individual’s rights would be weighed against the public interest on the basis of a five-stage test (the case of R (Razgar) v SSHD [2004] UKHL 27), normally by a panel of judges at a tribunal, covering a wide variety of factors (‘as varied as life itself’, lawyer Nick Nason sympathetically explains). These rules were swiftly changed, first by the executive in 2012 and then by the legislature in 2014, to limit the cases when individual rights would disable deportation, and to give decisively greater weight to the public interest.

Thus, a prison sentence of anything more than 12 months could justify interference with the rights of a foreign citizen to maintain his or her spousal or parental relationships in the UK, which would otherwise have been protected under human rights legislation. The Secretary of State’s practice to ‘certify’ these rights as ‘clearly unfounded’ (aka ‘deport now, appeal later’) aimed at ‘cracking down on the appeals conveyor belt used by criminals to delay their removal from the UK’, as then Immigration Minister James Brokenshire claimed after the practice was upheld at the court of appeal in 2015.

Disturbing stories began to emerge of petty criminals being ‘treated like animals’, apprehended when signing on with the Home Office and rushed on chartered flights to Jamaica at the break of dawn. Even as the Supreme Court ultimately ruled the system for deportation before appeal unlawful, the Windrush scandal followed in 2018, to illustrate the extreme extents to which Britain’s fascination with deportations had legitimised the practice.

What of EU criminals?

Interestingly, since 2014 an increasing number of EU nationals find themselves among the deported foreign criminals. This is somewhat surprising since EU law mandates a much higher level of protection against deportation for EU citizens than the domestic rules for other foreign criminals. This number is in addition to the homeless EU nationals deported from the UK on the basis of Home Office’s creative interpretation of EU Treaty rights as incompatible with homelessness. The removal of homeless EU nationals has fed into Britain’s own soul-searching over the enforcement of the 1824 Vagrancy Act continuing to criminalise homelessness and begging!

In favour of closure…

So Britain seems to have gone full circle from the days of the penal colonies and the deported mobile poor. It has effectively curtailed the rights of a particularly despicable group of migrants – foreign criminals – all the while making clear its displeasure with order-disturbing vagrants. Rather than looking at its own inequalities, it has chosen to tighten its physical and invisible borders. Brexit will inevitably bring further legal restrictions in the governance of migration. One can only surmise their impact on the public good of Britain after the EU.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor LSE. 

Dr Nevena Nancheva teaches Politics, International Relations and Human Rights at Kingston University London. She has studied EU migration to the UK since 2016, with a British Academy grant, building an academic network of scholars working on the topic. Her current research focuses on transnational identities and the marginalisation of migrants in the context of Brexit. This piece is based on a pilot study of EU nationals in detention with a view to family reunification and human rights protection.

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Book Review: Stretching the Constitution: The Brexit Shock in Historic Perspective by Andrew Blick

In Stretching the Constitution: The Brexit Shock in Historic PerspectiveAndrew Blick situates Brexit within the wider context of UK constitutional reform debates over the course of the past century. Blick’s unconventional approach to this topic is insightful, providing instructive historical context to contemporary discussions of Brexit that will be of particular value for scholars of constitutional affairs, writes Gary Wilson

Stretching the Constitution: The Brexit Shock in Historic Perspective. Andrew Blick. Hart. 2019.

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The phenomenon of Brexit has generated a considerable body of literature, much of which either seeks to understand the reasons why the UK voted to leave the European Union or assess the likely consequences of departure from the EU. Stretching the Constitution by Andrew Blick, a constitutional scholar, is refreshing in that it employs a unique approach by seeking to place Brexit within the wider context of constitutional reform debates going back over the course of the past century. The author begins from the non-controversial suggestion that the scale of the impact of Brexit has been considerable. The outcome of the 2016 referendum on EU membership immediately led to the resignation of one Prime Minister, has effectively derailed and destroyed the premiership of his successor and has produced major divisions within the two largest political parties – and the cabinet itself – over how to proceed. In addition, Brexit has resulted in challenges to the ultimate status of the UK as a constitutional entity and exacerbated deep divisions in public opinion.

Blick’s approach to making some sense of Brexit is grounded in a consultation of documentary materials which address some of the key constitutional themes that have surfaced during the Brexit debate, either explicitly or implicitly, the result being that Brexit is not regarded as an issue on its own but rather as part of a wider constitutional discussion. Part One of the book makes reference to textual material drawn from the period of Brexit itself, while in Part Two Blick considers aspects of related constitutional debates through the prism of earlier reform proposals produced over the course of the past century. In selecting his materials, the author is clear that he has sought to avoid official governmental or party political materials in order to maintain some objectivity.

The two chapters which comprise the first part of the book have a wide-ranging remit. In the first chapter, Blick draws upon reports of parliamentary select committees to gauge the lessons learnt from the referendum experience, while also touching upon constitutional issues which have arisen since, such as the role of the Supreme Court within the Brexit process, underlined by its ruling in the Gina Miller case. Chapter Two takes a step back to consider the debates which preceded the referendum, focusing on Parliament’s consideration of the 2015 EU Referendum Act which sanctioned its taking place.

Image Credit: Parliament Square (Leonard Bentley CC BY SA 2.0)

The major part of the book’s flesh is, however, found in the historical retrospect which runs through Part Two. Within these seven chapters, the author identifies and illuminates varied perspectives found in a range of historical writings and touches upon constitutional themes and issues, the significance of which have resurfaced against the backdrop of Brexit. A key point which quickly becomes apparent from this overview is the extent to which constitutional reform proposals advanced several decades – and, in some instances, a century – ago often inadvertently anticipated contemporary constitutional reform debates or continue to be relevant to shaping their parameters.

Given the end objective of those who support the Brexit agenda, Blick appropriately begins by surveying earlier perspectives on the shape and function of multi-state organisations, drawing upon works by L.S. Woolf, Friedrich Hayek, William Jennings and William Beveridge, who had advanced proposals for organisations which bore some features of the modern EU. By contrast, a far more recent plan of Brexit supporters Douglas Carswell and Daniel Hannan is considered, which sets out a vision of the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with other states.

The next two chapters address issues of democracy, focusing respectively on the referendum mechanism and representative democracy. The merits of using referendums within a representative democracy has been controversial in some quarters, although arguments for their use, similar to those advanced in support of the 2016 exercise, are found in earlier writings on the referendum mechanism. The shortcomings of the UK’s system of representative democracy have been highlighted both before and since the 2016 referendum. These must be seen within the context of debates over electoral reform and the redistribution of power within the UK. Again, earlier constitutional reform proposals can be employed to shed light upon some of these issues. Those surveyed within the book range from a 1911 proposal for the introduction of the single transferrable vote to unofficial Conservative proposals for House of Lords reform much earlier than those which the Labour government sought to effect in 1999. Earlier proposals for the decentralisation of power are also touched upon.

The following chapters are concerned with proposals for reform to Parliament, the territorial structure of the UK and the executive branch of government. The role of Parliament has been central to the Brexit process. While limitations in its operation have been illustrated by its inability to reach consensus on a form of leaving the EU acceptable to a majority of its members, concerns over its function are not new. The earlier reform proposals discussed by the author include the advancement of the case for the creation of sub-parliaments by Winston Churchill, amongst others.

To many minds, Brexit threatens the existence of the UK, while the 2016 referendum also gave rise to debates concerning the relative voice which its constituent parts might have within that process. The case for a federal UK is again revisited through the lens of earlier proposals. The varied reform suggestions pertaining to the executive range from those found in the writings of Arthur Ponsonby in respect of the scope for democratic control via the House of Commons, to foreign policy – particularly interesting in light of the extent to which the House has effectively curbed Government’s freedom of action in Brexit negotiations – to Harold Laski’s calls for reform of the civil service.

The final substantive chapter, titled ‘The Digital Constitution’, considers the relationship between digital technologies and democracy. While it is easy to see this as a modern challenge, with few lessons to be learnt from earlier writings, Blick manages to adduce works from HG Wells and others to bring historic perspectives to bear on this issue.

From his survey of earlier constitutional reform proposals, Blick reaches the conclusion that ‘historical analysis shows that the belief that democracy is in peril is far from new’. He questions the legitimacy of the Brexit process, acknowledging that it raised serious constitutional problems, while also noting that shortcomings within the UK’s system of democracy manifested during the Brexit debate have featured in past analysis. Some possible reforms are touched upon: for example, to the House of Lords as a second chamber capable of representing to the UK’s constituent parts and regions, and electoral reform to increase the democratic legitimacy of the UK’s political institutions. These are, however, couched within the context of earlier debates, which by its conclusion the book has clearly demonstrated are of great relevance to contemporary discussions surrounding constitutional reform.

This book is not perhaps one of the more conventional treatments of either Brexit or constitutional reform debates. That is, however, its main appeal. It is able to make an important contribution to the existing body of work within these fields precisely because it does not seek to replicate the usual approaches or discussions. The historical context provided to contemporary debates is insightful, but also very instructive in introducing the modern reader to materials of which they would in many instances have been ignorant or unaware. Anyone who purports to be a scholar of constitutional affairs should read Stretching the Constitution.

Note: This article is provided by our sister site, LSE Review of Books. It gives the views of the author, not the position of LSE Brexit or the London School of Economics.

Gary Wilson is Senior Lecturer in Law at Liverpool John Moores University. He specialises in collective security, the use of force and issues of secession and self-determination.

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The insecurity of a new no-deal Brexit Prime Minister

The economic consequences of the UK leaving the European Union without a deal have received significant attention, but a no-deal Brexit would also have important security implications. Helena Farrand Carrapico, Jocelyn Mawdsley and Richard G. Whitman explain what leaving the EU without a deal might mean for the UK’s internal and external security, as well as the country’s future security relationship with the EU.

The Conservative leadership race seems to be increasing the likelihood of a no deal Brexit. Both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have made clear they are willing to contemplate a no deal Brexit on 31 October if a revised agreement cannot be reached with the EU on the terms of the UK’s withdrawal. And the EU’s member states have made clear that they are unwilling to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement reached with Theresa May’s Government.

The likely impacts of a no deal Brexit on the EU-UK economic relationship have been given significant attention with hair raising accounts of the probable effects on trade, borders, travel and UK manufacturing and services. However, the effects on the security interrelationship between the EU and the UK have been given much less prominence. Currently, as a member state, the UK is connected to the other EU member states through a variety of cooperation arrangements for internal security (on borders, policing and criminal justice) and external security (managing security threats from outside Europe and which include cooperation on conflict management and defence). A no deal Brexit means that this cooperation would be thrown into uncertainty.

Internal security

A no deal Brexit would have considerable impact on the UK’s internal security, in particular on police and judicial authorities’ capacity to address issues such as organised crime and terrorism, and on the UK’s role as a leading country in the area of security, including its ability to propose new instruments and shape EU decisions so as to align them with its national interests. In fact, one could even go as far as to say that a no deal Brexit constitutes a substantial threat to UK security given the current critical and unprecedented levels of organised crime activities, as well as the continued severe level of international and domestic terrorism.

Against a background of wide-ranging police cuts (namely the loss of 44,000 police officer jobs since 2010) and the accumulation of austerity effects, the rapidly growing levels of insecurity are having a clear impact on the everyday safety of the UK population, with serious and organised crime currently endangering more lives than any other national security threat. Given that these problems are transnational in nature, the key to addressing them lies on intelligence and information exchange, rather than on the reinforcement of borders as has been occasionally expressed.

The UK currently has access to a large number of EU instruments, databases and agencies that allow it to have direct access to crucial information, to exchange best practices and to coordinate strategies and operations with other EU member states. The most important instruments include, for instance, the European Arrest Warrant, the Schengen Information System, the European Criminal Record System, Europol and Eurojust, whose access is part of a carefully designed relationship that the UK has negotiated with the EU since the early 90s and which has allowed it to adopt a selective participation in the area of internal security.

Within this model, the UK has been able to take part in instruments that are aligned with its national interests, at the same time as it has been allowed to opt out from others it considers less useful (for a complete list of UK opt-ins and opt-outs from this area, please visit the UK Governments’ dedicated website). As the UK progressed through the negotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement, its future security negotiation position also became clearer: it wishes to find alternatives to EU instruments that are capable of maintaining the same level of cooperation, in particular regarding data-driven law enforcement, practical assistance to operations, and multilateral cooperation through agencies.

A no deal scenario creates considerable uncertainty regarding the future UK-EU relationship as it implies a sudden loss of access to data and EU instruments, an abrupt interruption in cooperation, a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and a decrease in the levels of trust between the two sides.

Defence and security

As far as external security and defence consequences go, the immediate consequences of a no deal Brexit are less serious than the internal security ones. This is because the UK has already retreated from an active role in the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) in preparation for Brexit, for example handing over the operational command of Operation Atalanta (that deals with the piracy threat in the Horn of Africa) and leaving the roster of EU Battlegroups (standby military forces that the EU keeps available for conflict management). Most military operational activity now is either bilateral with other member states or through NATO.

Helicopter refuelling at sea as part of Operation Atalanta, Credit: European Union Naval Force Somalia Operation Atalanta (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

However, anticipating Brexit the other EU member states have set an ambitious agenda for EU defence policy and with the UK having little say in its objectives. There are now well-advanced plans to develop more shared military research and development, defence industry collaboration and common defence procurement. All of these are for the purpose of giving the EU a greater military capability to act independently of other countries such as the U.S.

The foreign and trade policy consequences of a no deal Brexit have significant knock-on consequences for defence too. As far as trade policy is concerned, a no deal Brexit will have negative consequences for British manufacturing, including the space, aerospace and defence industries. Delays and additional costs to exports may endanger British firms’ participation in major international supply chains. This coupled with a significant gap between UK defence policy commitments and budgetary allocations makes the UK a less desirable and reliable partner for future multinational procurement projects as the FCAS developments have shown.

Indeed, the recklessness of a no deal Brexit, after three years of political turmoil, would send a bad signal to the UK’s partners about its reliability in security and defence matters. Already there seems to have been a cooling off of UK-French defence cooperation because of French concerns about UK reliability both in operational participation and defence industry cooperation.

Brussels re-set

A no deal Brexit has broader foreign and security policy consequences for the UK’s relationship with the EU. The UK’s internal security relationship with the EU’s member states would be thrown into significant uncertainly and with dislocating effects for the policing, information sharing and judicial cooperation relationships that are currently in place.

Even without a no deal Brexit EU member states have already created a blueprint for further security and defence integration that do not anticipate a significant role for the UK as a non-member state. The agenda for close and special partnership, provided for under the current Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration, would be in tatters. And the UK would be seen as unreliable partner unable and unwilling to deliver on security and defence cooperation.

A new EU leadership coming into office and coinciding with an October no deal Brexit may have no lived experience of the extensive contribution that the UK made to existing EU security and defence policies and capabilities. Their formative impression of the UK could be as a security challenge to be managed rather than an indispensable partner for security cooperation.

This article gives the views of the authors, not the position of LSE Brexit or the London School of Economics. It first appeared on our sister site EUROPP – European Politics and Policy.

Helena Farrand Carrapico is an Associate Professor in Criminology and International Relations at Northumbria University. She is on Twitter @hcarrapico

Jocelyn Mawdsley is a Senior Lecturer in European Politics at Newcastle University. She is on Twitter @JocelynMawdsley

Richard G. Whitman is Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. He is on Twitter @RGWhitman

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Boris Johnson’s real agenda: The ‘Singapore scenario’

While immediate political attention has focussed on urgent questions of how, when or if Britain’s new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, will succeed in taking the UK out of the EU, the longer-term agenda of a Johnson-led Conservative administration has been pushed into the background. This is unfortunate. Johnson’s dream, should his premiership survive, is of a post-Brexit Britain akin to a European ‘Singapore of the West’, writes Charles Woolfson (Linköping University). He cautions, however, that this ‘Singapore scenario’ leaves a lot to be desired.

In Johnson’s eyes and those of fellow ardent free-marketeers, a ‘Singapore scenario’ would be achieved by an ultra-business-friendly environment with low or zero corporation tax, low wages, weak trade unions, vestigial welfare provisions and a significant temporary migrant ‘non-citizen’ workforce (around 30 per cent of the total workforce), largely without the protection of national labour laws or access to welfare provisions.

Yet, as the Prime Minister of Singapore pointed out, the transposition of a Singaporean model to the UK is not so simple. Currently, the UK government spending on the public sector accounts for 40 to 45 per cent of the GDP, while for the Singaporean government it accounts for a mere 16 to 17 per cent of the GDP (Bloomberg News, 2018). Furthermore, the Singaporean economy, while ranking second in the World Bank index of 190 countries in terms of ‘ease of doing business’ (pro-business regulation), is also accompanied by powerful regulatory social controls and an extensive system of government patronage (Trading Economics, 2019). Social inequalities in Singapore are rising. A recent review of 157 countries in terms of commitment to reducing inequalities ranked Singapore overall at 149, among the 10 worst performers, and at 157 in terms of redistributive progressivity of tax policies (Development Finance International and Oxfam Report, 2018). Noting a decline in ranking since the previous year, the report concludes, ‘On labour, it (Singapore) has no equal pay or non-discrimination laws for women; its laws on both rape and sexual harassment are inadequate; and there is no minimum wage, except for cleaners and security guards’. As a prescription for a post-Brexit labour market, a ‘Singapore scenario’ leaves a lot to be desired.

None of this has dampened enthusiasm for turning Britain, free of European regulation, into some kind utopian free-market paradise. Johnson’s trademark rhetoric has consistently excoriated the EU for ‘trussing the nations together in a gigantic and ever-tightening cat’s cradle of red tape’. It was exemplified by Johnson’s theatrical appearance before the cheering Conservative Party faithful on the final leadership election hustings. Brandishing of all things, a kipper, Johnson claimed (incorrectly, as it happens) that ‘Brussels bureaucrats’ required that each kipper sent through the mail be accompanied by a coolant bag, an unnecessary and ludicrous burden on business.

There are echoes in Johnson’s buffoonery with the 1980s satirical BBC TV series, ‘Yes, Minister’. A 1984 Christmas special edition depicted an incompetent and opportunistic James Hacker as Minister heading the Department of Administrative Affairs, reluctant to sign a Xmas card to a Brussels Commissioner (one rather French-sounding ‘Maureece’ by name). In contention was a proposed Brussels directive to standardize the ‘EuroSausage’ and re-designate the ‘Great British Sausage’ as an unappetising ‘emulsified high-fat offal tube’. In the same election hustings speech, Johnson proclaimed, kipper to hand, ‘And when we come out, therefore, we will not only be able to take back control of our regulatory framework and end this damaging regulatory overkill but we will also be able to do things to boost Britain’s economy, which leads the world in so many sectors’ (New Statesman, 2019).

Hostility to EU regulation is merely a surrogate target for hostility to regulation in general, seen as holding back burgeoning British free enterprise. To realise full ‘regulatory divergence’ from EU controls (the glittering prize of a no-deal Brexit), Johnson has now proposed the creation of free economic zones or free ports, offering lower import taxes and customs tariffs, favourable manufacturing locations, and looser regulation to lure investment in up to 10 ports around the country. These free ports will be situated mainly in declining and ‘left-behind’ areas such as Teeside. Such zones are not specifically precluded by EU regulations, although it is true to say that they are regarded by the Commission as potential havens for counterfeiting goods and money laundering. In fact, over 80 exist within the EU, the majority in the newer member states of Eastern Europe. Besides providing free-enterprise zones where capitalism can be let loose to do what it does best, their attractiveness for employers is that they are typically insulated from employment protection and minimum wage legislation, while collective bargaining and trade union representation are generally non-existent. Free ports are ‘the Singapore scenario made real’ in the UK context. They will be the forward positions in a greater national project of wholesale deregulation accompanied by comprehensive labour subordination, UK-apore as one big free port.

The post-Brexit foreign trade and investment environment

Ironic, therefore, is the announcement by Brexit-supporting Sir James Dyson, one of Britain’s most celebrated entrepreneurs of the relocation of his corporate headquarters from England to Singapore. This comes only a few months after a previously announced ongoing UK investment programme, much welcomed by Theresa May, and portrayed as a sign of business confidence in Britain’s post-Brexit future. For Dyson, the business logic is presumably compelling. While preserving his UK sites, the company already has manufacturing and new R&D facilities in Singapore, in part following a previous relocation from the UK. The Singapore investment is proximate to profitable East Asian markets for his luxury products, not to mention providing a suitable base for Dyson’s new plan to develop electrical automotives. Not least, however, the move to Singapore potentially offers zero corporation tax. A further incentive is access to labour markets in the East Asia region providing both compliant and relatively cheap human resources when compared to the UK. Dyson Ltd presents a paradigmatic example of ‘foot-loose’ capital investment shopping for regulatory regime advantage in a globalised ‘race to the bottom’. As a pointer to the investment potential of a post-Brexit Britain, Dyson’s decision is ominous.

An additional dimension to the post-Brexit competitive challenges facing the UK economy is the fate of existing foreign direct investment. Japan, for example, is a significant investor in the UK. Nissan, Toyota, and Hitachi between them account for 40 billion pounds (nearly half of Japanese direct investment intended for the EU in 2015 and 144,000 UK manufacturing jobs. Japanese business has sought reassurances that the UK will remain in the European customs union and single market, a demand that is profound anathema to Johnson.

In or out of the single market and customs union, the fact is that the EU is itself remoulding the global trade and investment environment through an extensive series of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), several of which it was hoped would be with potential trading partners for the new ‘Global Britain’. Recent among these is the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) of 2017. This will remove nearly all significant tariff barriers to trade. While the UK has already one of the least regulated labour markets in the EU, such agreements place further competitive pressure on a post-Brexit UK to show even greater ‘flexibility’ on labour and other standards. It is pressure to downgrade that will surely intensify as the UK government embarks on the mammoth task of ‘replicating’ forty years of existing European trade deals or tries its unskilled hand at forging new ones. If preliminary exchanges with the US regarding food safety standards in a future trade deal (specifically, the acceptability of chlorine-washed chicken) are anything to go by, the prospects are not enticing.

Labour migration: an unresolved contradiction

Theresa May’s successful wooing of Nissan investment in Sunderland may prove to have been only a temporary demonstration of foreign investor confidence in the future of the UK economy. As the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned, ‘Japanese businesses rely on inexpensive labour from Eastern Europe in the manufacturing and agricultural industries in the UK’.

Labour migration, the toxic driver of the Brexit debate, will present unique challenges to a free-market Johnson government, not least as its internal logic would suggest a more liberal and open regime. Migration, therefore, presents an unresolved contradiction at the heart of the ‘UK-apore’ project. To appease his core supporters it is more than likely that Johnson’s government will be forced, reluctantly or otherwise, to replicate much of the exclusionary path towards continued free movement of labour that informed the policies of his predecessor.

As Central-Eastern European migrants return home, (or refuse to come to the UK for the wages and conditions on offer) both of which increasingly they appear to be doing, UK nationals will need to be ‘persuaded’ to accept those low-paid ‘3D’ (dirty, dangerous, and demeaning) jobs that they had previously rejected. The ‘Singapore scenario’ applied to the UK would mandate a downgrading of current welfare and labour standards in a massive recalibration of labour expectations of the domestic labour force. Such a recalibration would be achieved by a radical shrinking of what remains of the welfare state, combined with a raft of ‘incentives’ to accept whatever jobs are on offer.

Questions of the downside of globalisation are not new but much accentuated by Britain’s current precarious political and economic conjuncture as it departs from the EU. In short, Boris Johnson’s ‘UK-apore’ can only be realised in a ‘race to the bottom’ to the significant detriment of existing standards. If the business model of labour and welfare devaluation in a ‘Singapore scenario’ is the pathway towards Britain’s economic salvation, then such standards now become integral to the democratic politics of post-Brexit Britain.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE. Image by David RussoSome rights reserved.

Charles Woolfson is Professor emeritus of Labour Studies at the Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society (REMESO), Linköping University, Sweden. Since arriving in Sweden in 2009 after a decade of residency in the Baltic states, he has written on East-West migration from the newer EU member states, and on the impacts of radical austerity programmes in the Baltics following the crash of 2008. He co-edited with Jeffrey Sommers, The Contradictions of Austerity: The Socio-Economic Costs of the Neoliberal Baltic Model, Routledge, 2014.

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Cabinet reconstruction: the calculations and risks behind Johnson’s ‘second-chance’ government

Nicholas Allen offers an in-depth analysis of Boris Johnson’s new cabinet and places the reshuffle in a historical context. He writes that the new prime minister has made the parliamentary arithmetic even less favourable to his Brexit plans, and explains why the reshuffle indicates that there may be another general election sooner rather than later.

Boris Johnson has finally achieved his lifelong ambition by becoming prime minister. The ensuing reshuffle or reconstruction of the Tory government was remarkable. Of the 27 ministers who attended Theresa May’s last cabinet, only 11 would be invited to attend Johnson’s first.

Forming a cabinet is a challenging business. New prime ministers need to reward supporters, appease or punish rivals and give posts to those with appropriate abilities, seniority and, on occasion, policy preferences. They also need to be mindful of their cabinet’s overall gender, race, regional and factional balance. And the overwhelming majority of their appointments must be drawn from a relatively small talent pool: their party’s MPs. The challenges facing ‘take-over’ prime ministers are even greater. Unlike their counterparts who first take office after winning a general election, take-over prime ministers have had no time to develop their team in opposition. Their government must be an iteration of their predecessor’s choices.

Johnson’s response on taking office was to conduct a wholesale purge of his predecessor’s appointees. Newspapers portrayed the clearout as ‘carnage’ and a ‘massacre’. In practice, not every departure was a clear-cut dismissal or, in a few cases, resignation. The extent to which ministers leave office involuntarily or voluntarily is a matter of degree. Some ministers choose to go knowing a prime minister is about to sack them, others leave after being offered a lesser post in an almost calculated snub.

For example, both David Liddington, sometimes referred to as Theresa May’s de facto deputy, and Chris Grayling, her transport secretary, in all likelihood chose to resign in anticipation of being dismissed. Jeremy Hunt, May’s foreign secretary and Johnson’s erstwhile rival for the Tory leadership, chose to leave rather than accept a demotion.

Only three members of May’s cabinet publicly announced in advance their refusal to serve under Johnson: her chancellor of the exchequer, Philip Hammond, her justice secretary, David Gauke, and her international development secretary, Rory Stewart. They may well have expected the sack but they also took clear positions against the new prime minister and his willingness to countenance a no-deal Brexit.

Johnson’s reconstruction in historical perspective

If we exclude these three individuals, Johnson’s cabinet reconstruction involved the dismissal of no fewer than 14 ministers (including pre-emptive and forced resignations). As the table below illustrates, he stands out as the most brutal of the eight post-war take-over prime ministers. Only Theresa May comes close: she dismissed 13 members of David Cameron’s cabinet when she took office. The next bloodiest purge was Gordon Brown’s in 2007, when he sacked seven of Blair’s cabinet ministers.

The table also reports two other measures of disruption: the new cabinet’s ‘political continuity’—the proportion of members who sat in the outgoing cabinet—and its ‘portfolio continuity’—the proportion of members in the new cabinet who held the same job in the old cabinet. These measures confirm just how extensive Johnson’s reconstruction was. The ‘political continuity’ between May’s and Johnson’s cabinet was comfortably the lowest of the eight prime ministers. Just one-third of ministers attending his cabinet attended May’s. In contrast, all other incoming prime ministers since 1945 retained at least half of the old cabinet in one job or another.

The low continuation in Johnson’s case is partly the result of Johnson’s butchery, and partly the result of his decision to increase the number of ministers attending cabinet. Whereas 18 ministers formally attended Anthony Eden’s new cabinet, no fewer than 33 attended Johnson’s. Britain’s supreme collective decision-making body has almost doubled in size since 1955.

Only in respect of ‘portfolio continuity’ was Johnson’s reconstruction not the most disruptive. Instead it was the second-most disruptive after Brown’s in 2007. Six ministers attending May’s cabinet retained their posts under Johnson, including the Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, the work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd (although she also gained the women and equalities remit), the leader of the Lords, Baroness Evans, the health and social care secretary, Matthew Hancock, the Welsh secretary, Alun Cairns, and the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox.

What to make of the new cabinet?

What was the purpose such an extensive purge of Theresa May’s ministers? The first and most obvious answer is that it was clearly meant to signal a break with her government and failed Brexit strategy. It was also a very brutal assertion of prime ministerial power. Ministers who are not with him—personally or ideologically—can now consider themselves dispensable.

A second and related answer is that Johnson now has a cabinet that is in accord with his commitment to risk a no-deal Brexit if he cannot renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union. He has created space around the cabinet table to bring in, or back, a number of committed no-dealers, including Priti Patel, the new home secretary, and Theresa Villiers, the new environment secretary, who took a prominent role in the 2016 Leave campaign.

From Johnson’s point of view, the new cabinet establishes his credentials with the EU as a prime minister who is serious about leaving without a deal. It also lessens the threat from the Tory hard-Eurosceptic right. Jacob Rees-Mogg, former chair of the European Research Group, can no longer snipe from the sidelines. He is the new leader of the Commons.

Johnson’s approach also reduces the prospects of any cabinet resignations down the line if there is a no deal. Jo Johnson, the new universities minister, who quit May’s government in 2018 because he opposed Brexit and wanted another referendum, has presumably reconciled himself with his brother’s worldview. Blood, it seems, is thicker than principle.

Second chances and chancing an election

There are three additional points worth making about Johnson’s new cabinet. The first concerns the number of what might be called cabinet retreads: ministers who have previously attended cabinet. If Andrew Bonar Law appointed the ‘second-eleven’ government in 1922—so-called because several of the most prominent Tories refused to serve—Johnson has appointed a second-chance government.

In addition to the prime minister, who resigned as foreign secretary in July 2018 in opposition to the Chequers agreement, and his brother, the new cabinet contains three other ministers who quit in protest at May’s Brexit strategy: Dominic Raab, Andrea Leadsom, and Esther McVey. It also sees the return of Nicky Morgan and Theresa Villiers, who were sacked in 2016 by Theresa May.

More controversially, the new cabinet contains three retreads whose careers were previously interrupted by scandal: Patel, who was sacked as international development secretary in 2017 for breaching the ministerial code; Gavin Williamson, who was sacked as defence secretary following a leak from the National Security Council earlier this year; and Grant Shapps, who resigned from Cameron’s government in 2015 over allegations about bullying in the Tory party.

Readmitting to the fold ministers tainted by scandal can be a potentially risky business. On the one hand, a lack of political judgement—an enduring defect in a minister—may have been a factor in their initial departure. On the other hand, the media may well subject these individuals to even greater scrutiny, potentially increasing their chances of being caught out over even the most minor transgression.

The second point about the new cabinet concerns its orientation to Brexit. Reaching out to Tories opposed to a no-deal is seemingly not Johnson’s priority. Instead, he has used his powers to create a government that is fully committed to leaving the EU by 31 October. It is entirely consistent with a strategy to appeal to supporters of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

The third point is the parliamentary challenges created by the reconstruction. May took office as the head of a divided party with a wafer-thin parliamentary majority. Johnson takes office as the head of an even more divided party with no parliamentary majority.

Johnson has now sent a number of senior politicians to the backbenches, some of whom, like Hammond, have already promised to oppose a no-deal Brexit, others who may now hold a grudge. The new prime minister has made the parliamentary arithmetic even less favourable to his long-term plans. Just as he wants to win back support from the Brexit Party, his reshuffle seems to have been based on an assumption that there may be a general election rather sooner than later.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE. The post appeared first on LSE British Politics and Policy. Featured image credit: Chatham House under a CC BY 2.0 licence.

Nicholas Allen is Reader in Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London.

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Only a new unity government can effectively avert a no-deal Brexit

If the UK is not to crash out of the European Union with no deal, Jonathan Boston (LSE) argues that the previous one-party political control of the executive will need to be temporarily suspended. There is a clear majority view of the House of Commons that any withdrawal from the EU must be an agreed and orderly one, with clear succession arrangements in place. But, from where we are now, making that will effective presents unique challenges that necessitate a unique solution.

Preventing a no-deal Brexit, whether on 31 October or subsequently, may well require the formation of a multiparty government comprising MPs from across the House of Commons under the leadership of a new Prime Minister. Such a government would need to take office before the end of October. Necessarily, it would be a relatively temporary arrangement. But it would need to govern long enough to avert a no-deal Brexit, not only on 31 October but also subsequently. Undoubtedly, forming such a government would be extraordinarily difficult politically, but not impossible.

There are compelling political, economic, security, and constitutional reasons to avoid a no-deal Brexit. Currently, a majority of MPs oppose such an outcome. Polling also suggests that most citizens reject this option. But the government led by Boris Johnson appears willing to take the country ‘over the cliff’. Against this ‘backdrop’, recent authoritative analyses by Vernon Bogdanor and Professor David Howarth highlight the many obstacles facing MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit.

Potentially, a majority of MPs could defeat the current government on a vote of no-confidence, moved by the Leader of the Opposition, to precipitate an early election. But unless Parliament ensures that the election is held during mid-to-late October rather than November, an early poll might not avert a no-deal outcome. Moreover, the Conservatives might secure an overall parliamentary majority in an autumn poll on a pledge to leave the EU without a deal. In this event, the strategy of voting down the government to avert a no-deal Brexit would have failed.

Alternatively, the election might generate yet another hung Parliament, precipitating further years of Brexit-induced governmental paralysis. For such reasons, if the fundamental and overriding objective is to prevent a no-deal Brexit (whether on 31 October or subsequently), triggering an early election is a high-risk, and probably flawed, strategy. Aside from this, it would generate enormous internal tensions for both major parties.

Rather than pursuing a vote of no-confidence, MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit might employ other parliamentary tactics. For instance, they could endeavour to enact legislation requiring the government to: a) seek a further extension to Article 50; b) prevent Britain leaving the EU without a negotiated deal; or c) hold a second referendum on EU membership. But all such options are fraught with difficulties. Above all, they might simply precipitate the Prime Minister moving a motion in the House to call an early election under Section 2(2) of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. Most Labour MPs would doubtless feel obliged to support such a motion, thus guaranteeing the Prime Minister his required two-thirds majority. But, as argued above, an early election is no sure way to prevent a no-deal Brexit. Accordingly, MPs opposing such an outcome must avoid tactical moves that play into the Prime Minister’s hands.

Getting to a new majority government

If an early election and/or parliamentary tactics of various kinds are high-risk strategies, realistically the only option is to replace the current government with a new one. Admittedly, this would be extremely challenging politically. It would require formidable strategising, organising and tactical skills and unprecedented inter-party cooperation.

Constitutionally, forming such a government would require the active support (or, in some cases, at least acquiescence) of a plurality of MPs, all with varying political goals, party loyalties, personal agendas, and career ambitions. More specifically, the MPs would need to reach agreement on: a) an acceptable candidate for Prime Minister; b) the composition of the cabinet and the allocation of key portfolios; c) a viable short-term policy agenda; and d) an agreed political strategy, especially for resolving the Brexit impasse. Each of these steps would be complicated with competing political pressures and difficult trade-offs. Bear in mind, too, that forming such a government would occur almost certainly in the face of strenuous opposition from the majority of Conservative MPs, the DUP, and no doubt some Labour and independent MPs, not to mention a largely hostile media.

Whether or not such a scenario is feasible, the following considerations deserve mention. For the Queen to appoint a new Prime Minister, the House of Commons would need to provide an unequivocal signal, perhaps through a vote of confidence or an unambiguous resolution, that it supported a named candidate other than the current PM. Such a signal would require the support of a significant number of Conservative MPs, possibly 30-60 depending on the stance of some Labour MPs and independents. But who would such MPs be willing to support as Prime Minister? Presumably, Jeremy Corbyn can be ruled out. Equally, sufficient Labour MPs are unlikely to countenance another government led by a Conservative MP (e.g. Kenneth Clarke or Rory Stewart). But what about a Labour MP, such as Hilary Benn, Yvette Cooper or Sir Keir Starmer? If not, would a LibDem MP (e.g. Sir Vince Cable) or an independent MP command support? If none of these options is acceptable to sufficient MPs, a multiparty government could not be formed. Arguably, this is the Achilles’ heel of an alternative government.

Next, a new government would need to agree upon a democratically acceptable solution to the Brexit impasse and have the capacity and time to implement the preferred approach. Merely installing a new Prime Minister for a few weeks or months to prevent a no-deal Brexit on 31 October and facilitate an autumn general election would be unwise. Indeed, a general election held under such circumstances might well guarantee the very outcome that those opposed to a no-deal Brexit are seeking to prevent. Above all, it would provide Boris Johnson (who by then would be the Leader of the Opposition) with an ideal platform. He could cast himself as the champion of the people against the supposedly unconstitutional and anti-democratic antics of a recalcitrant Parliament dominated by remainers. At the same time, the new government would need to commit publicly to holding a general election as soon as practicable after the Brexit impasse has been resolved. This would be essential to maintain adequate parliamentary support and appease angry pro-Brexit voters.

Resolving the Brexit issue with a two-stage referendum

How then might the Brexit impasse be addressed? Given the difficulties, Parliament has faced in finding an acceptable solution, and the risks associated with an autumn election, a second referendum on EU membership may be the only option. But to be politically acceptable and legitimate – and for the result to be durable – such a referendum would need to be well-constructed, properly conducted, and enable the will of the people to be expressed clearly and decisively. In effect, this means the referendum questions must be unambiguous, with sufficient choice to enable the public to express its preferences.

The experience of electoral reform in New Zealand in the early 1990s provides possible lessons. In this instance, citizens voted on a series of questions in a two-stage referendum process. During the first stage, voters were given the option of retaining the first-past-the-post electoral system or embracing a different system. Next, on the same ballot paper, they were asked to choose between one of four options for electoral reform. In the event, there was a decisive majority to change the electoral system and a similarly clear majority for a mixed-member system of electoral reform (similar to the German model). At the second stage, held the following year, voters were asked to choose between the mixed-member system (as drafted by Parliament in detailed legislation) and the existing electoral system. The majority of voters supported reform.

Applied to the UK context, a second referendum process could proceed as follows. First, citizens would vote on whether to remain in the EU or leave. Next, on the same ballot paper, they would be asked to choose between one of several specific options for leaving (e.g. perhaps the Norwegian model, continued membership of the customs union, or no-deal). Then, if the majority of voters chose in the first round to leave the EU, the preferred option for exiting would be run off against remaining in the EU. Under this approach, few could claim that their preferences had been ignored or that the ‘establishment’ had ‘fixed’ the result.

Although highly unlikely, the majority of citizens might vote to leave the EU and to do so without a deal. In this event, the new government would have failed to realise its core objective. But at least a no-deal Brexit would then occur in the context of a clear democratic mandate and with a proper understanding of the likely implications – something which the 2016 referendum failed to ensure.


The most effective strategy to avert a no-deal outcome, whether on 31 October, or at a later date would be for MPs to form a new multiparty government – a coalition for unity and stability committed to retaining office long enough to enable the current Brexit impasse to be resolved in a manner both constitutionally robust and democratically legitimate. Forming and maintaining parliamentary support for such a government poses formidable challenges. It will require remarkable leadership, significant organisational skills, and substantial political sacrifices. In particular, enough MPs must be willing to place the public interest and democratic values ahead of narrow party loyalties. Is this scenario plausible? If the answer is negative, the nation faces a grim future.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE. Image by Suzy Dubot (

Jonathan Boston is Professor of Public Policy in the School of Government, at the Victoria University of Wellington, and an expert on the New Zealand constitution and Westminster systems more broadly. Jonathan is currently visiting LSE’s Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation (CARR).

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Long read | It’s the English, stupid! Brexit is an expression of English nationalism

It’s the English, stupid! Hudson Meadwell (McGill University) writes that the national structure of the UK and Britain, and the political organisation and expression of that structure, are keys to understanding Brexit.

Brexit is an English-centric phenomenon in which Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales appear as complications or afterthoughts. The sole constitutional voices in the Brexit process are English-dominated, first in the referendum itself, which aggregated the vote across national jurisdictions and in Parliament. Neither Northern Ireland, nor Scotland nor Wales are constitutionally empowered to express a voice on the matter of EU membership.

However, English political dominance is not something which can be directly acknowledged in political discourse. The language used by Donald Cameron and Theresa May in their letters, eighteenth months apart, to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, shows some of the political equivocations that result. Cameron’s letter opens under the heading, “A New Settlement for the United Kingdom” and then twice refers to the ‘British people’. May opens her letter with reference to the ‘people of the United Kingdom’ and then presents the referendum as a ‘vote to restore, as we see it, our national self-determination’. These brief quotations should show just how slippery these signifiers are. The United Kingdom includes Northern Ireland but Northern Ireland is not British. Indeed, the notion of the ‘United Kingdom’ was repurposed in the 1920s in order to recognize the reality of Irish partition. May never refers to the British people but she does invoke national self-determination. Later, she again makes reference to the ‘people of the United Kingdom’ But to which nation is she referring; whose self-determination is she signifying? Is this just loose, sloppy language?

These kinds of ambiguities and equivocations in expression, in important documents written both to your negotiating adversary as well for a larger political audience, are revealing and call out for some diagnosis. Perhaps the political unconscious is slipping out. Or are we looking at strategically ambiguous political rhetoric embedded in plans, the elements of which are not self-evident in these documents? These are hard questions, in any case, particularly so here, when there is relatively little material, primary or secondary, to work with.

So, how to proceed? I’ll advance a conjecture related to nationalism. If anything can be taken for granted and thus draw some of its force from its unarticulated everydayness and be articulated and enacted in a political plan, it’s nationalism. Nationalism, as some of its theorists suggest, can be both banal and a self-conscious political project. That’s not a contradiction, it is a measure of the sources of nationalism’s social and political force.[1]

Hence the conjecture: Brexit is an expression of nationalism. Between Cameron and May in their letters, the latter is much more explicit, as she tried to invoke the legitimating power of national self-determination. But which nationalism? Who is more likely going to slip into the mentality that confuses their nation with ‘Britain’ or the United Kingdom?

This is a nationalist conceit but whose? It’s not the Scots, nor is it the Irish, or the Welsh. It’s the English.[2]That’s fully compatible with the recurring theme of English exceptionalism in British history, which takes English dominance (if not superiority) as a natural birthright.[3] After all, who incorporated who?

That birthright has been challenged at different historical points, and each challenge marks an important political crisis. English identity has proven fairly resilient but each crisis has left its mark. English dominance is not as natural a birthright as it used to be.

Irish resistance and eventually revolution still casts a long shadow in the form of Irish partition, even if England retained its dominant position in what is now known as the United Kingdom. In hindsight, partition perhaps bought England some (considerable) time but it looks now like that particular colonial legacy has come home to roost. Northern Ireland, drawing indirect and direct support from the EU and Ireland, and despite the support the Democratic Unionist Party has provided the Conservatives in Westminster, is now limiting England’s political degrees of freedom, much to the chagrin of Brexiteers.

Scotland is no longer particularly tractable and successfully induced the English to concede an elected assembly and, not long after, a first referendum on independence. This may be more a running problem than a crisis, if you prefer your crises to be episodic; nonetheless, the Scottish question will be part of the calculations of the Conservative government in their negotiations, up to and after the run-up to October 31, of a Labour government in the event of an electoral defeat of the Conservatives, at some point, whether post-Conservative transition or post-withdrawal and, naturally, of the SNP. There is no resolution of the Scottish question in sight.

Then there are the cumulative long-run effects of the rise of American power culminating in its post-1945 hegemony, the loss of blue-sea colonies, and more recently, the incremental deepening and enlargement of the EEC/EU after British entry. All of this changed the international standing of Britain and the UK and their imperial core – England.

English dominance thus is vulnerable: There are standing internal challenges to the borders of the political shells it maintains, and membership in the EU threatens its ability to control these interior spaces through the British parliament. These challenges can work in tandem as well as separately. ‘Scotland in Europe’ captures dramatically the instrumental relationship between Scotland’s national aspirations and EU institutions. Both the EU and Ireland have tangible stakes in Northern Ireland.

England has seen off various challenges to its dominance but its day of reckoning does seem to be drawing closer. It’s now much harder to separate challenges and deal with them as one-offs.

However, imperial cores don’t often reform themselves in the aftermath of empire. The current imbroglio does not look like the expression of a politically-healthy ruling class. There is no appetite for reform in the English ruling class. It’s a little like watching for regime change in autocratic contexts, looking for signs of a crack in the regime and the emergence of challengers to its hardliners. But there is not much sign of this in the party system, at least not yet.

The Conservative Party appears now all in for withdrawal, although it has been debating different scenarios. However, some of these scenarios are contrived. The Conservative party does not hold many cards, now that an agreement has been negotiated and ratified by one of the two parties in the negotiation.

On the other side of the House, the main political alternative – Labour – has been, at best, ambivalent about EU membership in the run-up to Brexit and afterwards. We can’t really say that Brexit has polarized the two major parties until relatively recently, as its leader pledged to support Remain in the event of a new referendum. Yet this was a rather half-hearted, rather than fully-voiced position. It likely will be overwhelmed by internal party division.

Labour is led by a longtime MP and activist who came to political maturity in pre-Thatcher Britain in a period in which (‘old’) Labour had not fully cast off its dream of ‘socialism in one country’. Membership in the EEC/EU, and the long march of English and British political history may not have put fully paid to that dream (even a weaker version of it) in Labour. Hence, withdrawal could be seen as an opportunity to return to roads not taken. That is also quite consistent with the general argument on the left that the EU is a neo-liberal dead end. So, the narrow national vision that underpins the Conservative position is not completely alien to Labour. If something like this is the choice on offer – if these are the two little Englands on offer – unification for the Irish and separation for Scotland may look more attractive.

This brings me back to where I started: the language of the letters written to Donald Tusk by Cameron and May. Perhaps, then, it is the political unconscious speaking in those letters even if the most recent challenge to English political dominance that continued EU membership represented has provoked a nationalism that is anything but banal.

No doubt, like his predecessors, the new Prime Minister will take the opportunity to write, whether to the President of the European Council or the President of the European Commission. Whatever is being said privately between the two negotiating parties, we can expect such a letter to be written partially for a domestic audience and hence to be made public.

How will he put it? In such a letter, will Johnson repeat in different words, his first public communication after being named Conservative leader, and invoke ‘the awesome foursome that are incarnated in that red white and blue flag who together are so much more than the sum of their parts’?

Part of this is generic, boilerplate nationalism, ‘rally around the flag’ rhetoric. Yet most of it is distinctively English nationalism – the denial of challenges to English dominance which an acknowledgement of national disunity would represent, coupled with an appeal to the unbroken coherence of the United Kingdom (the ‘awesome foursome’), all of which studiously skirts political reality.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE.

Hudson Meadwell is Associate Professor of Political Science at McGill University. Image © Copyright Richard Croft and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

[1] Michael Billig, Banal Nationalism (Thousand Oaks, CA.: Sage, 1995); Michael Skey and Marco Antonisch (eds.), Everyday Nationhood. Theorizing Culture, Identity and Belonging After Banal Nationalism (London: Palgrave Macmillian, 2017), Political Geography. Special Issue, Banal Nationalism 20 Years On. 54 (September, 2016).

[2] Krishan Kumar, The Making of English National Identity. Englishness and Britishness in Comparative and Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) and Michael Skey, National Belonging and Everyday Life (Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke, 2011).

[3] Tom Nairn, The Enchanted Glass. Britain and Its Monarchy (London: Verso, 2011, rev. ed), Leah Greenfeld, Nationalism. Five Roads to Modernity, (Cambridge, MASS.: Harvard University Press, 1992), chapter 1, Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837 (New Haven, CT.: Yale University, 2009, rev. ed.)

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No-deal Cabinet: time for another Bank of England stress test

With the new Cabinet made up of ‘Vote Leave veterans and right-wing free marketers’, Costas Milas discusses how the Bank of England may want to respond.

Evan Esar quipped in his Comic Dictionary that statistics is ‘the only science that enables different experts using the same figures to draw different conclusions’. This definitely applies to the notorious Brexit divorce bill figure of £39bn. Brexiteers believe that they can avoid paying the bill and extract a ‘better’ deal from our EU partners. Others interpret the above figure quite differently: it is a financial commitment that the UK has to fulfil.

Boris Johnson started his premiership with reference to this divorce bill. It is quite astonishing that his first speech as Prime Minister hinted that the UK stands ready to ignore its financial commitments in the case of no-deal Brexit. How reassuring can it be in the country’s ongoing efforts to sign trade agreements with the rest of the world when the Prime Minister declares he is ready to ignore existing international financial commitments? The £39bn bill nonetheless accounts for approximately 0.27% of the EU annual GDP (based on 2018 data) – it is not as big as Mr Johnson makes it seem. Assuming a 31 October 2019 exit date, the bill will have gone down (based on the latest estimates by the Office for Budgetary Responsibility) to £32.8bn.

Mr Johnson’s choice of cabinet ministers attracted, to a great extent, negative comments from the press. For instance, The Guardian noted that the new Cabinet is made up of ‘Vote Leave veterans and right-wing free marketers’. A definite worry about this combination is that many Cabinet ministers do not see no-deal Brexit as a problem for the economy and the country as a whole. Sure, the UK economy will eventually absorb the negative shock; that said, two important questions need immediate answers. First, why would the UK want to inflict on itself huge (short to medium term) economic pain when it can definitely avoid it by either agreeing to a version of Theresa May’s deal or by negotiating a further short-term extension which would then lead to another (but again not that different) Brexit deal?

Second, what is the exact size of the economic pain in case of a no-deal Brexit? The latest Bank of England Financial Stability Report points out that the 2018 stress test of the UK banking sector was sufficiently severe to deal with a disorderly Brexit. The assumptions of the test involved, among others, a 4.7% fall in gross domestic product, a 27% drop in the sterling effective exchange rate and a rise in the bank rate to 4% (presumably to defend our currency and stave off inflationary pressures). Nevertheless, recent comments by Bank of England policymakers, including Gertjan Vlieghe, suggest the very possibility of a near-zero interest rate in case of a no-deal Brexit.

Consequently, it makes sense for the Bank of England to assess the implications for our economy of a bank rate cut to zero rather than a rise to 4%. Would, for instance, the banking sector be able to absorb a potentially huge drop in bank deposits as customers will be looking for alternative returns outside a sinking (at least in the short term) UK economy? This question needs to be answered before Mr Johnson presses the no-deal Brexit ‘button’.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the LSE Brexit blog, nor the LSE. It first appeared on LSE British Politics and PolicyFeatured image credit: “Boris” by Raymond Wang is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Costas Milas is Professor of Finance at the University of Liverpool.

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Prime Minister Johnson has appointed a no-deal Cabinet

After Parliament successfully ended May’s hopes of securing her version of Brexit, Britain now has a new Prime Minister and a new government, all with less than 95 days to go until the UK is due to leave the European Union. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Cabinet reshuffle has been characterised as brutal, but what does the new Cabinet mean for the UK’s departure from the European Union? The PM has appointed a no-deal Cabinet, says Thomas Eason (University of Nottingham).

Looking first at the Prime Minister himself, Johnson has said that he wants the UK to leave the EU with a newly negotiated Withdrawal Agreement. However, if a new deal cannot be obtained, his preference is for the UK to leave the EU without a deal on 31 October 2019. Unfortunately for Johnson, the prospects of negotiating a new deal are slim. Not long after he took office the EU quickly stated that it would not renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement. Johnson’s preference for a newly negotiated deal is, therefore, a unicorn – it is promised but cannot be achieved. This leaves him with 3 credible options. He can try to get May’s deal through Parliament again, he can cancel Brexit and keep the UK in the EU, or he can opt for no-deal. His rhetoric clearly suggests the latter is his preference, and so too do some of his key Cabinet appointments.

Starting first with the appointment of the Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, one could be mistaken for thinking continuity is Johnson’s plan. Barclay served as Brexit secretary under Thresa May, making him one of the few secretaries of state not to be purged from the Cabinet. However, while serving under May, he did not have altogether that much power over the Brexit process. This was because the Prime Minister chose to handle many of the negotiations herself. Indeed, Barclay’s input seemed to be limited to managing no-deal preparations. These have since been handed over to Michael Gove, thus begging the question, what will Barclay be doing as Brexit Secretary now? Well, The Department for Exiting the European Union’s website claims that the department is responsible for overseeing Brexit negotiations, and it is very likely that the machinery of the department is doing just that. As before, Barclay’s role in negotiations will ultimately depend upon how active the Prime Minister chooses to be, but his control over the department will ensure that his voice is heard by both his colleagues around the Cabinet table and the EU, and his position seems to be the same as Johnson’s. Barclay believes that if a new deal cannot be reached, crashing out of the EU under no-deal is the next best option. Since we know the EU is unwilling to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement, no-deal is apparently the Brexit Secretary’s first choice.

Next then is Michael Gove. Gove has been appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, an obscure post that many have been forced to look up. As suggested above, he has been given control of the Cabinet Office and no-deal preparations. The Cabinet Office is responsible for coordinating government policy across departments, and since a no-deal Brexit would impact all areas of government policy, giving it control over no-deal preparations is probably a wise move. Ultimately then no-deal preparations are Gove’s responsibility, and since taking up his new position Gove has claimed that no-deal is now “assumed” by the government. Gove himself was famously one of the key faces of Vote Leave, meaning few can question his commitment to leaving the EU.

Taking the job of Secretary of State for International Trade in Liz Truss. In this role, Truss will be responsible for promoting British trade and securing new trade deals around the globe, a key part of the discursively constructed “Global Britain” image. When it comes to Brexit, Truss is one of those MPs that had a sharp change of opinion. During the referendum, Truss voted Remain. However, she has since become a very staunch Brexiter, claiming that if a deal cannot be secured, leaving the EU without a deal is the preferable option. Based on her current discourse then, Truss is another government voice speaking in favour of a no-deal Brexit.

That said, while many in the new government now promote a no-deal Brexit, few have done so as strongly as Dominic Raab, the new Foreign Secretary and de-facto Deputy Prime Minister. Like the others, Raab has repeatedly argued that if a new deal cannot be made, which the EU suggests it cannot, then no-deal is the best option. Indeed, he has even suggested that he would be willing to prorogue Parliament to ensure MPs cannot prevent no-deal from happening. The responsibilities for negotiating the Brexit and new trade deals may well fall under the control of other departments, but the role of foreign secretary is still important to the Brexit process. As Foreign Secretary, Raab will be seen as a spokesman for the British government by both domestic and international audiences, and thus any statements that he makes about Brexit will be heard around the globe. Furthermore, in conducting Britain’s diplomatic relations, the Foreign Office itself will be playing a crucial part in the process of creating new trade deals. Together, this all makes Raab a key player in the Brexit process and his preference is for no-deal secured through prorogation if necessary.

These extreme views are shared by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the new Leader of the House of Commons, whom will also be attending Cabinet. In this role, Mogg will be responsible for controlling government time in the House of Commons, and thus (alongside the Chief Whip) will be tasked with getting any new deal through Parliament. More importantly, he will also be responsible for blocking any attempts by MPs to prevent a no-deal Brexit. Over the years Mogg has made his views very clear. He believes that a no-deal Brexit is preferable to May’s Withdrawal Agreement and that the Government should prorogue Parliament to secure a no-deal if it needs to. Like Raab then, Mogg supports no-deal Brexit and the prorogation of Parliament to get there.

Lastly, there is Sajid Javid. As Chancellor, Javid will be crucial to ensuring economic stability in the event of a no-deal, and Johnson has reportedly ordered Javid to ensure Gove has all of the resources necessary to prepare for a no-deal Brexit. Like Truss, Javid is another MP that voted for Remain but now supports no-deal if the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be renegotiated.

Together then, taking into account the fact that the UK cannot renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement, every single member of the Johnson Cabinet with significant control over Brexit now supports crashing out of the European Union without a deal. Indeed, considering the fragmented nature of May’s government, collective Cabinet responsibility is back in fashion, united behind no-deal. For those that wish to leave the EU with a deal and those that wish to remain, this is obviously a pretty bleak picture. Understandably so, since many experts agree that this scenario will be damaging to the UK’s economy, NHS, and global influence.

Regardless, based on Johnson’s rhetoric and Cabinet appointments, it looks very likely that the UK will crash out of the EU without a deal on 31 October. Furthermore, as this is the legal default, there is nothing that Parliament can really do to stop this without a change in the law. Such a change that would be very difficult to make within the time that is left and would very likely require an election. Even if MPs do take action, the threat of prorogation is very real with Mogg as Leader of the House of Commons. Ultimately then, a no-deal Brexit is now the primary policy of the British government and, while still not certain, appears to be the most likely outcome of the Brexit saga.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE. Image by ChiralJon,(CC BY 2.0).

Thomas Eason is a PhD International Relations student at the University of Nottingham.

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Brexit Britain’s Trumpian moment?

Boris Johnson’s adoption of a No-Deal exit as a viable policy option can only be described as Brexit Britain’s Trumpian moment, writes John Ryan (LSE).

US President Donald Trump told a crowd in Washington: ‘Boris is good. They call him Britain Trump.‘ German English-language service Deutsche Welle published an article with the title ‘Boris Johnson’s clowning glory‘. Seen as Donald Trump’s boastful mini-me by many with no electoral mandate from the British people for No Deal and with a record of incompetence, ineptitude and intellectual laziness – Boris Johnson has nevertheless just been elected by the Tory party membership to become the Conservative party‘s leader and then by default the UK’s prime minister.

In what can only be described as Brexit Britain’s Trumpian moment, Johnson showed his political opportunism by adopting the Brexit Party’s key policy of No Deal Brexit as the way to stem the rise of arch-Brexiteer Nigel Farage and to prevent the terminal decline of the Conservative party. Johnson’s lack of a viable plan for government besides a No Deal Brexit raises the prospect of a repeat of his tenure as Mayor of London in which he achieved little in eight years and in which he wasted money with little in the way of tangible benefits for Londoners.

Many adversaries, as well as colleagues of Boris Johnson, feel that he is personally unfit to be Prime Minister. The Guardian recently ran a series of articles during the Conservative leadership election pointing out his political and personal deficiencies. They say that he is a habitual liar, a cheat, a cruel betrayer of the women in his life, a politician who connived in a bid for a court order to suppress mention of a daughter he fathered, a do-nothing mayor of London and the worst foreign secretary in living memory. He was described as a diagnosed narcissist whose entire political career has been constructed through the prism of personal opportunism. Johnson as foreign secretary contributed to a British national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian citizen being incarcerated in Iran after he wrongly stated she was teaching journalism in the country, a comment cited by Iran to undermine her case.

There are known to be several Conservative MPs who have deep reservations about serving under a prime minister who is prepared to leave the EU without a Brexit deal on 31 October. An early vote of no confidence would trigger a 14-day period during which someone else – including Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn – could try and form a government which wins the support of the Commons. If that cannot be achieved, then the UK would face a general election. But to prevent a No Deal Brexit, there would need to be a new prime minister in place who is prepared to go to the EU to ask for a further extension before the 31 October 2019 deadline is reached.

Holding an election out of his own volition would be dangerous for Johnson with the poor state of the economy, the weakened pound, businesses leaving or not investing in the UK, the sad state of health care, council cuts to old-age care, rising debt and corroded public finances, the lack of police on the streets, climate change, supporting Trump’s foreign policy adventures, and dealing with China, Iran, Israel, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The political fallout associated with the economic hit of a Johnson-induced No Deal Brexit should not be underestimated. We know that higher barriers to trade, investment and migration will damage UK productivity growth; and that British consumers will be forced to buy more expensive imports or lower quality British alternatives, hitting living standards. It will be a mix of the two, but that mix is hard to quantify. What is more, the Brexit referendum in 2016 coincided with robust global growth. With signs of a slowing global – and European – economy, the costs of Brexit would be more acute now. The immediate damage would be enormous, if only because of the uncertainty and the lack of preparation, both among governments and companies both in Britain and the EU.

Newly appointed members of the Boris Johnson cabinet do not inspire confidence. Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, now foreign secretary, was mocked for confessing he “hadn’t quite understood the full extent” of the UK’s dependence on the Dover-Calais crossing for trade. Former development secretary and staunch Brexiteer Priti Patel now home secretary made the outrageous suggestion that Britain should use the threat of food shortages to force Ireland to change its approach to Brexit. The tragedy of the Irish famine which caused the death of over a million Irish men, women and children was one of the most shameful episodes in British history.

Some people appear as stupid or ignorant because that is exactly what they are. Ignorant people can succeed against the odds if success depends on other, unrelated qualities. Boris Johnson is the populist’s populist and has been described as both the thinking man’s idiot and the idiot’s thinking man. For many inside and outside Britain, the Tory party seems to be governed by a self-involved clique which includes Boris Johnson that rewards group membership above competence and self-confidence above expertise.

Clearly, MPs damaged Johnson‘s hopes of forcing a No Deal Brexit through Parliament on 18 July 2019 when they voted by a large margin to prevent a future Johnson government from suspending it to prevent it from voting against No Deal. But that does not mean Parliament can legislate to stop No Deal without the government’s consent. There were some 47 Conservative MPs who defied the whip: 17, including the former digital minister Margot James, voted for the plan, while another 30 abstained, most notably Cabinet ministers at the time of the vote Philip Hammond, David Gauke, Rory Stewart and Greg Clark. Any plan by Boris Johnson to leave the EU without a deal would result in Parliament passing a vote of No Confidence in his government, with a high chance of success. That would almost certainly precipitate a General Election, in which a new mandate would be offered to ‘the people’, either to revoke Article 50, or to offer the nation a new referendum on Brexit.

Johnson wants to ensure there is no hard Irish border, even in a No Deal scenario, through so-called alternative arrangements – technological approaches by which customs and regulations checks would take place automatically, or away from the land border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The consensus among experts in the UK and the EU is that such technology is several years away from being useable, and there is not the slightest chance of a system being in place for 31 October 2019. Analysts at JP Morgan investment bank said the two Prime Ministerial candidates’ quest for a Brexit withdrawal agreement without the “Irish backstop” was like hunting a unicorn. “A unicorn with a lick of paint is still a unicorn,” analysts Malcolm Barr and Allan Monks wrote in a note sent to clients.

Johnson has got a technical working majority of two, which could fall to one after a by-election in Brecon on 1 August 2019. Last Wednesday Chancellor Philip Hammond, International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, Justice Secretary David Gauke and de facto deputy Prime Minister David Lidington all handed in their resignation after Theresa May’s final Prime Minister’s Questions and before May formally handed in her resignation to the Queen. A total of 17 ministers from Theresa May’s Government, including Penny Mordaunt, Liam Fox and Jeremy Hunt, were either sacked, resigned or retired. That is a  purge of unprecedented scale. Dominic Cummings, the former head of the Vote Leave campaign, was appointed Senior Adviser to Boris Johnson.  This is a now a radical right-wing Vote Leave Brexit government. Even before he stepped foot through the door of No.10, Johnson knew that others could drive the narrative of his premiership.

At Eton, notes James Wood in the London Review of Books, they were taught to impose themselves on the world with “effortless superiority”. But these people fall short too often. The trouble is they keep failing upwards – constantly given the benefit of the doubt, leaving them with the benefits and the rest of people of the UK with the consequences of leaders who are unable to run a modern society and economy with a detrimental effect for the less well-off citizens of Britain. On 22 July 2019,  an opinion piece in the New York Times gave this damming assessment of Boris Johnson:

“Boris Johnson, to whom lying comes as easily as breathing, is on the verge of becoming prime minister. He faces the most complex and intractable political crisis to affect Britain since 1945. That should be concerning enough. But given Britain’s political system — which relies for its maintenance on the character and disposition of the prime minister — it carries even graver importance. Mr. Johnson, whose laziness is proverbial and opportunism legendary, is a man well practiced in deceit, a pander willing to tickle the prejudices of his audience for easy gain. His personal life is incontinent, his public record inconsequential.”

On 24 July, the assessment in The Guardian editorial “Boris Johnson’s leadership: the years of a clown” was stark: “Burning bridges to Europe is an act of arson, not statesmanship. Leaving the EU without a deal threatens to wreck the UK economy, break up Britain and rekindle violence on the island of Ireland.” Prime Minister Johnson’s first soundbite outside Number 10 was “Forget the Backstop, the Buck Stops Here”. The first part of the phrase is wishful thinking, but the second part may come back to haunt him – especially with Nigel Farage’s Brexit party waiting for him to fail. There is no trust or enthusiasm for Prime Minister Johnson in the EU which will make any chance of a deal very difficult.

With the right-wing populist Boris Johnson taking the country’s premiership, Britain’s Trumpian moment has arrived. En route, Johnson has lulled the Tory party into Brexiteer unicorn illusions and raised the prospect of a No Deal Brexit. When reality hits, it may not only be a sore awakening for Boris Johnson and his government, but also for the United Kingdom.

This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of LSE Brexit, nor of the London School of Economics. Image © Flickr / BackBoris2012Campaign

Professor John Ryan is a Visiting Fellow at LSE IDEAS. He has been a researcher at CESifo, Munich, Germany, St Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin, Germany. John is working as a senior partner in consultancy as a Brexit adviser for EU, Gulf and Asian clients.

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Post-2016 Britain faces a generation of constraining dissensus

Modern British politics is usually dated to either 1945 or 1979, both years symbolising generational resets that created new consensuses in British politics. As Tim Oliver (University of Loughborough) explains, 2016 is the new year by which British politics is dated. But instead of a new consensus, post-2016 Britain faces a generation of constraining dissensus.

The Conservative party leadership race, and Boris Johnson’s many foibles, has taken some attention away from Brexit. But as with so much in British life today, Brexit lurks in the background. The leadership race itself shows how Brexit has consumed, confounded and humiliated Britain’s political class. No wonder that the idea of suspending parliament to allow a no-deal Brexit is being taken as a serious idea by some in the Conservative party. They hope a British exit will allow their party, parliament and the country to move on.

But Britain is not going to move on. British politicians and public are still coming to terms with a generational reset of British politics triggered by the 2016 vote. Hopes a no-deal exit or some new withdrawal deal can end the bickering and divisions are as deluded as hopes a second referendum victory for Remain can return life to some pre-June 2016 norm. 2016 is becoming the year by which modern British politics is dated and defined. Traditionally 1945 and then 1979 were the years by which British politics was dated. But instead of some new political consensus emerging, as happened after 1945 and 1979, post-2016 Britain faces a generation of dissensus and all the constraints and obstacles that flow from that.

For Britain, 1945 was not only the end of the Second World War. It was also the year Winston Churchill, for all he had done to lead the country in its finest hour, was thrown out of office by a landslide victory for the Labour party. Clement Attlee’s Labour government set about building a ‘cradle to grave’ welfare state and a mixed economy. Management of Britain’s relative decline became the norm for a post-war retreat from empire while trying to hold on to global status through such things as the acquisition of an atomic bomb.

In 1979 that consensus was swept aside by Margaret Thatcher. The power of the market replaced the power of the state. Relative decline was given short shrift by the Iron Lady. Her successors up to David Cameron lived in her shadow as those before her had lived in that of Attlee.

The consensuses following 1945 and 1979 were, of course, the product of changes long in the pipeline and connected to wider international trends. Whether it was the Great Depression or the collapse of Bretton Woods, each new consensus reflected problems from the previous system. Nor were they complete revolutions or entirely accepted. Despite Thatcher’s efforts, state spending remains high and British relative decline very real. What few dispute is that the Thatcher and Attlee governments set the political weather for the following generation. It’s why their statues stand in the lobby of the House of Commons alongside those of Churchill and Lloyd George, the other two defining – and wartime – prime ministers of 20th century British politics.

Sixteen years into the 21st century and Britain once again faces a reset of its politics. Far from leading to a period of consensus, however, it’s likely Britain is now entering a generation of dissensus. It’s long been clear that the referendum was about more than UK-EU relations. Through the voting for Remain or Leave the British people voted on a range of issues and were motivated by more than just relations with Brussels.

In the political uncertainty that has reigned since the vote, politicians, not least Theresa May, have not only tried to find a way of withdrawing Britain from the EU. She tried to use Brexit as a means to affect a wider change to Britain’s political economy, identity, constitution and place in the world. That May failed and that no other political or ideological consensus has prevailed reflects the tumultuous political weather of the post-2016 consensus. Instead of one narrative or ideological agenda, Britain’s politics, society, economics, constitution, unity and place in the world are now deeply contested.

Such divisions are hardly new. The referendum and the post-referendum politics, however, have combined them, polarised opinion and forced the UK to face difficult choices it has long put off. It means successive prime ministers – whether Boris Johnson now or somebody else such as Jeremy Corbyn – will be unable to create a new consensus.  Instead of a new consensus, future governments will be faced by a period of dissensus, and thanks to all the divisions it will be a constraining dissensus at that.

The idea of a ‘constraining dissensus’ has been applied to the EU itself. The emergence over the past thirty years of multiple forms of Euroscepticism have left the EU struggling to integrate in ways it once did when a more permissive consensus about integration prevailed amongst the EU’s citizens and politicians. The UK faces something of a similar fate. Even the unity of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is contested. A recent survey showed a majority of Conservative party members willing to accept Scotland and Northern Ireland’s departure from the UK as the price worth paying for an EU exit.

Equally fraught divisions over immigration, identity politics, the economy, the constitution, relations between the USA and Europe and much more now constrain Britain’s politicians, political parties and parliament. Add into the mix a constitutional setup thrown into a state of unprecedented flux and it becomes clear that even a large majority for one party in the House of Commons is unlikely to allow a prime minister or single party to set the agenda.

Much like the EU itself then, Britain’s politics for at least a generation is set to be one of ambivalence and division.

This article gives the views of the author, not the position of  LSE Brexit or the London School of Economics. This article also appeared on the Clingendael blog. Image © Flickr / BackBoris2012Campaign.

Dr Tim Oliver is Senior Lecturer at the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance at Loughborough University London.

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