George Voskopoulos, Associate Professor of European Studies

June 23rd will bring the UK to a crucial momentum unprecedented for the country itself but also for the EU. The result of the referendum will bear serious implications for the course of the country and the process of European integration. However, although the outcome is a question of a strategic choice to be made on a national level, the referendum in itself is a shocking political dilemma since it questions the validity, the ontology of a choice made decades ago.

European integration has been a strategic, rational choice made at an elite level. UK's referendum sets this choice under scrutiny as it implies that there is another alternative. Euroscepticism has emerged as a political choice in a country that historically has been cautious vis-a-vis continental Europeans in terms of procedures, organization and the ability of the nation-state to defend national prerogatives. In academic terms the referendum in itself questions elements of applied political theory as well as aspects of neo-functionalist integration theory.   

In terms of economic consequences a potential Brexit is bound to affect the country and its ability, at least in the short term, to deal with the immediate side-effects of distancing from the continental Europeans. The case of Scotland is not only indicative of the economic perils of a go-it-alone policy but also of hard choices based on economic criteria not just political instinct or priorities. In a recent analysis of the FT it is suggested that the burden of the decision will be on the elderly who will eventually decide on the fate of their children and grand-children [1]. This provides a generation-based approach constructed on the unavoidable realities of crude economics, the historical organizational legacy of state autonomy as well as the idealism and openness of younger generations.

Supporters of the exit strategy construct their argumentology on defending national interest and the distinctive identity of the nation. At the same time the economics of Brexit have become a battleground of opposing views despite the fact that any process of quantifying the side-effects on UK's economy are hard to define. The exit strategy bears significant economic cost, while the stay choice might evolve into a long-term political crisis for the British political system [2].   

Dissatisfaction over the organizational evolution of the EU [3] and the tendency to pass national prerogatives over to EU institutions as well as the lack of a clear political project that will satisfy divergent trends within the EU has driven the UK to a crossroads where hard decisions are to be made in the domains of politics and trade (see Figure 1) [4].

In terms of European integration Brexit itself is a non-desired outcome for the European edifice for several, multilayered, inter-connected political and economic reasons. First, it might trigger a domino effect that will cast doubt on the whole integration process. It will be an unprecedented choice in European integration history. Second, it will deprive the EU of a strategic partner, a valuable bridge between the EU and its strategic ally over the Atlantic. Third, it is bound to leave the EU without a partner necessary to assist an intra-European balance of ideas, scope and alternative conceptualizations of a united Europe.  

Brexit argumentology contains certain elements of the past related to Churchill and its views, particularly its motto of the UK being "with Europe, but not part of Europe".  In effect this refers to the special relationship of the past difficult to reinstate after becoming a central part of the integration process. Analyses have focused on specific parameters nominally expected to define the final outcome, yet, these are only tentative and indicative (see Figure) [5].

Brexit is not just a question of economic rationality. It is above all a question of the EU missing the point, losing a strategic partner. It is by default a high politics issue, a clear distress signal defined not only by the outcome of the referendum but above all by the referendum itself.

[1] "Millennial's  would bear the cost of Brexit", FT, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c91b54c6-0c5c-11e6-9456-444ab5211a2f.html

[2] "Should we stay or should we go? The Economic Consequences of leaving the EU", Centre for Economic Performance, LSE

[3] See Chapter 2: The End of an Era? Towards a New Debate on European Intigration, The EU, Euroscepticism and Brexit, Routledge, London

[4] "Should we stay or should we go? The Economic Consequences of leaving the EU", Centre for Economic Performance, LSE p. 4

[5] The EU, Euroscepticism and Brexit, Routledge, London, p. 6

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