Brexit: The mother of all uncertainties

BrexitIn the aftermath of last week’s EU referendum, the only thing we can be certain of is uncertainty, writes Professor Paul Ekins, Director of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, as he outlines two absolutely contrasting scenarios.

So the British people have voted by a margin of around 4%, a little more than 1 million votes, to leave the European Union (EU). Where this will lead lies somewhere between two absolutely contrasting scenarios.

On the positive side, we can imagine that the months before the election of the new British Prime Minister in October see some healing of the great divide that has opened up in the UK, a decision by Scotland not to pursue independence, and Sinn Féin not to pursue a referendum on Irish reunification, a steadying of the economy by the Bank of England and current Chancellor, and therewith a steadying in both the stock and currency markets. Then, in October or November, the new Prime Minister presses the button on Article 50, to be met by a conciliatory European Commission which, over time, makes it clear that UK Associate Membership of the Internal Single Market can indeed be accompanied by restrictions on EU freedom of movement and less need for the UK to implement EU legislation. This takes the heat out of the UK Brexit impulse, so that agreement on UK/EU terms of engagement, which involves minimal disruption to trade and investment, swiftly follows. Businesses and the financial sector heave a sigh of relief and get on with business as usual. The damage of Brexit to the UK and EU economies, and to the UK and EU politically, is minimal, far less than was forecast by practically everyone. ‘Experts’, especially economists, become the butt of more jokes. In five years’ time the UK’s position in Europe is a bit like Norway’s, but immigration has been restricted by the new curbs on freedom of movement. Leavers are delighted and say ‘I told you so’. Remainers are mightily relieved that the meltdown they feared has not occurred. The curbs on the freedom of movement of labour are used by other EU Member States to take the heat out of their populist movements. The ‘reformed’ EU continues more or less as before. Continue reading

Lies, Damn Lies and Leave.EU Leaflets

brexit muffinsAs the Brexit campaign heats up, many of us are receiving leaflets urging us to vote either “in” or “out”. Whilst it is to be expected that each camp will attempt to frame the argument in a way that favours its cause, the Leave.EU leaflet makes claims that are clearly misleading. UCL academics Randoph Bruno, Filipa Fiquiera and Jan Kubik set the record straight.

Leave.EU Leaflet: “In 1975 we voted for a Free Trade Area known then as the Common Market”

The first sentence and already we have been misled. The European Economic Community (also known as the Common Market) which the UK joined back in 1973, was not a simple Free Trade Area and this was made clear to voters at the time of the 1975 referendum. The official UK government pamphlet, which was sent to all British homes prior to to the referendum, stated prominently the following:

The aims of the Common Market are: to bring together the peoples of Europe; to raise living standards and improve working conditions; to promote growth and boost world trade; to help the poorest regions of Europe and the rest of the world; to help maintain peace and freedom.

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There’s no love for the EU or immigration, but voters must ask ‘what are the alternatives?’

Free movotersvement is part and parcel of continued access to European markets. Stephen Booth, co-director of Open Europe asks if it is worth sacrificing the latter to reduce the former? This piece is part of the UCL European Institute’s second guest editor week on openDemocracy.

Given the recent political history of immigration in Britain, is it surprising that the issue now tops the political agenda and that public trust in politicians on this issue is so low? Throughout the 2000s, with looser policies on non-EU migration and EU enlargement to eastern Europe taking effect, net immigration to the UK increased from the tens of thousands to well over 200,000 a year. According to Ipsos-Mori’s issues tracker, just 10% of the British electorate considered immigration to be the most important issue facing the country in the late 1990s. By the mid-2000s, the share of people saying it was the most important issue steadily increased to 40%, and by May 2015 it reached 50%.

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A confident UK has nothing to fear from free movement of labour

B-E-Confident-UK

Migration brings net gains to the UK, and to hamper it would likely be as bad for British nationals as it would be for EU migrants, contends Ian Preston, UCL Professor of Economics and Deputy Research Director of the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM). This piece is part of the UCL European Institute’s second guest editor week on openDemocracy.

Freedom of movement is at the core of arguments over Brexit. Not everyone in favour of Brexit is against free movement but polling evidence suggests that concern about immigration is strongly linked to support for EU withdrawal. Among the most common reasons given for voting Leave is the suggestion that it will restore British control over labour migration from European sources. By removing the country from the obligation to honour free movement of workers, it is suggested, it will make it possible to selectively and advantageously discourage immigration of less attractive sorts of workers.

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Winning the argument for staying in Europe

Moyan Brenn/Flickr. (CC 2.0 by SA)Roland Rudd, founder and Chairman of Finsbury, writes that those arguing against Brexit will never win by wearing rose-colored glasses. At the same time, those campaigning to leave are hamstrung by an inability to agree on what ‘leave’ means. This piece is part of the UCL European Institute’s first guest editor week on openDemocracy.

The choice facing the British public is the biggest in a generation: do we choose to be stronger, with an economy that creates new opportunities and has the power to shape the future, or do we choose to be weaker, less able to influence global developments that risk harming our economy and compromising our safety? It is clear to me that the UK is stronger, safer and better off in Europe than we would be out on our own, and we need to make a positive patriotic case for Britain being stronger by staying in. To make that case, the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign has brought together a coalition of powerful advocates, from business leaders such as Karren Brady to security experts such as Peter Wall, the former head of the British Army. We now need to win the argument across the nation. Continue reading