Panel 308: The Domestic and European Implications of Brexit
The Domestic and European Implications of Brexit
This panel intends to trace and explain the first concrete developments that have surrounded Brexit in both the United Kingdom and the European Union. In particular, it focuses on one specific aspect – the impact of Brexit on the political systems of both polities and on the distribution of political power within them. In the 45 years of EU-UK integration, these two political systems have become significantly integrated and have ‘learned’ to grow and change together, while also contributing to create a a high number of institutions, agencies, offices, patterns of power on the European continent. Brexit is likely to trigger a period of changes within what once were relatively stable, path-dependent trajectories – which (might) lead to new courses of action. Investigating these repercussions on the UK’s and EU governance is the main question that this panel intends to address.
More specifically, three papers analyse political dynamics within the UK. One contribution looks at the impact of Brexit on the wider institutional structures of the country – Baldini et al. on the transformations of the Westminster democratic model. Other two papers deal with the distribution of power at the sub-national level: Giovannini and Huggins investigate the local level of the UK multi-level governance, while McEwen and Murphy explore political developments in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The final contribution turns its attention to Europe. Leruth traces the possible changes upon the EU ‘constitutional’ order and assesses to what extent Brexit has been a moment of differentiation or disintegration in the EU constitutional architecture.
Presentations of the Symposium
Brexit, Local Devolution and the Continued Centralisation of the Local-Central Relationship
Local government represents one of the most Europeanised parts of the British state. The EU is the source of around 70% of legislation councils must implement. It provides local authorities with funding and opportunities for policy influence. Concurrently, Brexit happens against a domestic backdrop of declining local budgets, reducing autonomy and capacity, increased demand for local public services and calls for greater investment in the UK’s regions. Yet in the broader context of Brexit, little attention has been paid to its impact on local government and its wider implications for the constitutional relationship between local and central government. This paper addresses this gap. Drawing on interviews with senior local politicians and officials, it shows that while Brexit is seen as an opportunity for greater devolution, it has so far failed to live up to this expectation. This is particularly the case in England, where the process of devolution is still nascent and uneven. This means some areas have new devolved architectures in place, but lack adequate powers to respond to the challenges posed by Brexit, while others have been left out and struggle even further to deal with the uncertainties of Brexit. This patchwork devolution is exacerbated by government indifference towards local voices in the Brexit debate, despite calls from local leaders for more engagement. Consequently, there is increasing tension in the central-local relationship, which will likely to lead to the further emasculation of local government. This points to a wider trend of continued centralisation in the UK’s constitutional settlement.
Brexit and the Westminster Model
This paper provides a preliminary assessment of the impact of the Brexit process – from the referendum in June 2016 to exit day in March 2019 – on the British political system. Drawing on the classic work of Lijphart and the ensuing scholarship applying the Westminster model to Britain, it seeks to understand whether and to what extent Brexit has impacted on the majoritarian features of the system. Adapting Lijphart’s criteria, it places its focus on the executive-legislative relations, the territorial power-sharing arrangements and on the electoral-party dimension. It relies and triangulates different data, including original qualitative interviews with experts and policy-makers in Westminster, Whitehall and the devolved administrations. It argues that Brexit has brought to light several intertwined tensions that had been brewing inside British politics over the course of the previous years, and which are likely to continue unfolding for several years. Building on a previous contribution by the authors published in 2018, the paper aims to monitor the ever-changing equilibrium between institutions in the complex process of Brexit.
Brexit and the Union: Examining the Territorial Effects of the UK’s Withdrawal from the EU
For those advocating and negotiating for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, Brexit was an exercise in British self-determination. It would see the British people “take back control’ of their sovereignty, powers and borders. The Irish border issue may have come to dominate Brexit negotiations. However, that is largely a result of Irish Government persistence and can’t mask the UK Government’s negligence in failing to consider the potential impact of its negotiating ‘red lines’ on the UK-Irish land and sea borders. The territorial effects of Brexit are not confined to the Irish border. The UK’s territorial constitution and system of devolved government also faces considerable challenges. The EU had provided a critical supranational framework within which devolution in Scotland, Wales as well as Northern Ireland had developed, and the repatriation of competences has the potential to have a profound effect on the devolution settlements and the distribution of power between the UK and devolved governments. These challenges are compounded by the territorial politics of Brexit; while the Leave vote in Wales was broadly similar to the UK-wide vote, both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted strongly in favour of Remain. That the Withdrawal Agreement recognises the unique position of Northern Ireland while ignoring completely the case of the Scottish Government for a distinctive status for Scotland has fuelled nationalist sentiment and may yet instigate a process leading to a new independence referendum. This paper will examine the territorial impact of Brexit negotiations to date and consider the short-term impact of Brexit on the devolution, multi-level government and national unity.