Brexit: Why and How the United Kingdom Leaves the European Union

Kim Lane Scheppele
Friday, October 28, 2016

The new PIIRS European Crises Working Group recently sponsored its first public talk on “Brexit: Why and How the United Kingdom Leaves the European Union.” Leading the panel discussion was the group’s coordinator Kim Lane Scheppele, the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Sociology and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and the University Center for Human Values. Other panelists included Harold James, director of the program in contemporary European Politics and Society; Andrew Moravcsik, professor of politics and director of the European Union program; and R. Daniel Keleman, professor of political science and the Jean Monnet Chair in European Union Politics at Rutgers University.

In her introduction, Scheppele gave a brief overview of the varying events in Europe in the past year, stating that “Brexit was not the only crisis currently impacting the European Union.” Other European events include the ongoing migration crisis, EU foreign policy, the Dutch not approving Ukraine’s admission to the EU as well as EU liberalism, and Hungary becoming increasingly autocratic, with Poland following suit. “Any one of these events would have a large effect on the EU, but in combination, there is an even greater effect.  The EU will get smaller, not larger, for the first time in its history,” she added.

In his comments, James likened Brexit to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” stating it was a “tragedy of one who could not make up his mind,” criticizing both the people of Britain and its leadership for being “deeply ambiguous of the Brexit vote.” He also criticized the role of the Labor Party’s Boris Johnson in inciting the “revolution,” but said that the party was also disintegrating into chaos since no one really prepared for Brexit to occur. While a second referendum could legally happen, James said he was fairly sure it would not. “I don’t think that parliament will override the votes. Britain is stuck with this and it is unclear what the future will be.”

Moravcik compared Brexit to kabuki theater saying that it was inconceivable that it would happen. He also said that “Britain may change the legal name that it calls its relationship with Europe but that, in fact,very little will change. Brexit is not the largest crisis in Europe. . .we need to focus on the monetary system,” he asserted.  “Our biggest problem is with the euro.”

Dan Keleman agreed with the panel that it was an improbability that Brexit should have happened and he is uncertain what Britain’s future plans will be since it is UK has no written constitution. Keleman’s perspective on post-Brexit Uk-EU Relations:

  • If EU leaves EU single market, economy will suffer major damage
  • To maintain access to EU market, under any plausible scenario:
    • UK Must follow EU regulations
    • UK must flow free movement and contribute to EU budget
    • UK will lose ability to vote on EU rule
    • UK will lose ability to veto treaty changes or new members.

In her segment, Scheppele dove into the legalities surrounding Brexit and the different opportunities available for Britain moving forward. She got into the specifics of Article 50 TEU, that states that any member state can withdraw from the union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements; Article 238(3)(b) that discusses majority rule; the pros and cons with the opportunity to join the European Economic Area (EEA); and plans dubbed “reverse Greenland” and “semi-Brexit.”  

Watch the video

Anyone interested in joining the European Crises Working Group is encouraged to contact Kim Lane Scheppele.