The Brexit Journal: Day Two. The win that looks like ‘Lose/Lose’.
This is the second in a four-part report authored by International Relations and Global Politics student, Tierra Hatfield (bio at foot of page) covering the recent departmental field trip to the U.K. to understand the Brexit process at first hand. The subsequent parts will be published over the coming weeks.
The second day was definitely our most busy day as it included numerous meetings with very diverse groups that included a think tank, the European Commission, the Financial Times, the London School of Economics and an audience with a Lord. Although the first day only included two meetings, I already felt as though I was starting to build a comprehensive understanding of Brexit. From the first two meetings the previous day, it seemed to me that Brexit is a ‘lose-lose’ situation for the UK and the EU and moreover than a large part of the population was upset about the outcome of the referendum and how it was handled by their government.
Stephen Booth, Director of Policy and Research
Vincenzo Scarpetta, Senior Policy Analyst
The first meeting of the day was at another non-partisan and independent policy think thank, Open Europe. The director of policy and research, Booth informed us that Open Europe remained neutral during the referendum. However I found this interesting as the connotations of the name of the think tank ‘Open Europe’ strikes me as implying a non-restrictive relationship and a sense of freedom between European nations. In a way it seems as if the undertone in the name of the think tank contradicts some of the pro-Brexit arguments that are exclusive in nature. However that being said, I found Booth’s projection of the future of the UK and the EU very insightful. Compared to Center for European Reform, Booth led the meeting in a more positive direction focusing on what the relationship between the UK and EU could look like in the future.
Despite the economic and social negatives, he argued that the UK and the EU could produce marginally positive outcomes from Brexit. One thing I found particularly interesting was that Booth seemed to suggest a separation of Europe as a continent and the European Union. Throughout my studies I have always unconsciously associated the continent of Europe with the European Union and therefore never divided the geographical area with the Union. Instead Booth focused on a wider geopolitical relationship between the UK and the EU that could be able to constructively cooperate on European issues outside of the European Union.
European Commission, Representation in the UK
Jacqueline Minor, Head of Representation
The second meeting with Jacqueline Minor, head of representation of the EU to the UK, allowed us to gain a new perspective by looking at how the EU reacted to the outcome of the referendum. Minor expressed that while the EU regretted the decision of the UK, it would respect it but not enter into negotiations until Article 50 is triggered by the UK. I found the meeting helpful in understanding how the EU is dealing with the blow of the UK leaving, as one of my original thoughts about Brexit was that it represented a huge set back for the values of the EU. Similar to Booth’s viewpoint, Minor mentioned that while negotiation objectives remain unknown the UK is leaving the EU, but it is not leaving Europe. Therefore both the UK and EU will try to maximize their interests and attempt to mitigate the ‘lose-lose’ outcomes of Brexit.
During the meeting Minor also pointed out something that caught my attention as regards to how the EU states individually have a role in shaping public opinion towards the Union. She mentioned that it is common among the EU states that policies and practices that they like are often implemented as a promotion for national government whereas policies and practices that they do not like are portrayed as being imposed by Brussels. In a way it correlates to the development of anti-EU feelings that helped to fuel the ‘Leave’ campaign. While the EU has many flaws, I also agreed with Minor that many politicians use the EU as a scapegoat for domestic issues that need to be addressed by the national government. The concluding remarks of the meeting was that despite the complexity and difficult conditions of the Brexit the European Union needs to show it can responsibly resolve the situation with the UK and revive the Union. However, the situation is still very uncertain and could very easily create more negative outcomes.
Tony Barber, European Section Chief
From the European Commission we made our way across London to the London School of Economics (LSE) where we met with the European Section Chief Tony Barber from the Financial Times. Barber talked briefly about the reasons the lead to the referendum and the reaction from the other 27 member states and the current situation of the EU states. He expressed that new EU member states could be worried about Brexit as the UK is one of Europe’s two military powers, and would no longer guarantee UK support with the growing threat of Russia- however there is still NATO of course. He also touched on the domestic issues in EU states that could be a challenge for societies to move towards integration and spend capital on better a European vision. This includes issues such as the Greek Crisis, terrorism in France and the economy in Italy.
Towards the end of the meeting we also began to discuss the role of media in the outcome of the referendum. I found it interesting that while he agreed that the facts and misinformation published had an effect on voters, Barber argued that the deeper changing values of the British society was a bigger factor than the newspapers. He went on to talk about how there is a trend in the erosion of the stability of the 2 party systems. Unfortunately Barber could not stay for very long, but I enjoyed the discussion and it was yet another new and different insight into Brexit.
London School of Economics
Dr. Matthias Koenig-Archibugi
As Dr. Matthias Koenig-Archibugi was sitting in the room with us during the meeting with Tony Barber, we jumped straight into the next talk. However, unlike the other approaches to the current EU and UK situation that we encountered in our meetings, Dr. Koenig-Archibugi implemented a lot of data and graphs focusing on inequality and nationalism. He presented the correlation between increasing inequality and increasing nationalism, pointing out that as inequality raises so does euro-skepticism. I found his presentation extremely interesting as it brought to light some of the underlying issues of Brexit and furthermore he went on to support his claims in hard data and evidence. I think being able to look at what inequality has done for nationalism in the UK, and certainly in the rest of the world, is crucial to understanding some of the root causes of increased nationalist sentiment. Dr. Koenig-Archibugi went on to present the Diversionary Theory in which power-holders promote nationalism to discourage focus on economic inequality and then go on to mobilize against it. This tied into what we had discussed at the meeting with the European Commission and many of the other meetings, where we mentioned that the EU and immigration are being used as a scapegoat for domestic issues. Although we did not have much time with Dr. Koenig-Archibugi, I felt as though this meeting helped to put more depth to our comprehension of the socio-economic roots of Brexit.
House of Lords
Lord Maurice Glasman
Without a doubt, the meeting we had at the Parliament with Lord Maurice Glasman was one of the most interesting meetings of the trip. After some of the pre-departure readings I was excited about the opportunity to meet with Lord Glasman as I thought he would be able to give us a unique insight into the build-up to the referendum. However, I don’t think any amount of reading could have prepared us for the meeting. Lord Glasman, founder of the Blue Labour party, labeled himself as a “radical traditionalist” in an interview with the Guardian earlier this year. After showing us around the Parliament, he took us to his office which was a massive room filled with red hues, historic paintings and large floor to ceiling windows overlooking the river. In reflecting later, we discussed how the meeting was a performance whereby Lord Glasman attempted to elevate himself and make the students in the group feel intimidated. Some of the points that he made were that the EU was a threat to democracy and liberty. Furthermore he went on to claim that the UK believed it was joining a common market and ended up in a political system it did not want to be apart of. I found his view very flawed, as Professor Caratelli later brought up that the UK’s involvement in the EU was not just an accident and the UK has been very involved in the decision-making processes of the EU. Moreover, Lord Glasman gave the perception of the UK as being above the EU, and went on to explain how the UK saved Germany, France, Italy from fascism and Nazism. (“And neither Germany nor France has said ‘thank you’ to the UK”)
It was extremely interesting to have the opportunity to meet and discuss Brexit with Lord Glasman, as during the rest of the trip we had been unable to talk with the pro-Brexit side or meet anyone who actually voted to ‘Leave’ the EU. I was surprised that he talked so openly with us about the fact that the party had no plan for what would happen after the referendum and never thought that they would actually win the votes for Brexit. It was a fascinating meeting that illustrated how politics really work in the real world, and how different it is to the academic world that we more familiar with.
This is the end of the second part of this report. Below you will find some further links to explore:
- Brexit Guide: Where next? (Open Europe)
- Giving meaning to Brexit (Open Europe)
- Euromyths – a database of false or misleading UK media reporting about the EU (European Commission)
- Why should Labour support the undemocratic EU? The case to leave. (Lord Maurice Glasman)
- The architect of Blue Labour: an interview with Lord Glasman (Holyrood Magazine)
- Tories threaten to take power away from House of Lords if it stalls Brexit (The Independent)
About Tierra Hatfield
I am an international student from a diverse cultural background; my family is originally British/American by blood but has been based in Kenya and South Africa over the last four generations- where I grew up and claim as my true home. I have been pursuing my undergraduate degree in International Relation and Global Politics at the American University of Rome (AUR) since 2014. Currently I am a senior and will be graduating in the upcoming spring of 2017.
Over the course of the last two years at AUR, I have had the incredible opportunity to engage with current political issues through the exciting on-site courses provided by the International Relations Department. Starting in Brussels during the outbreak of the Ukraine Crisis in the fall of 2014, I have travelled throughout Europe and Turkey with IR professors Irene Caratelli and Francesca Conti who have inspired me to develop a passion for international affairs. Most recently, we traveled to London to explore the phenomenon of Brexit and its ambiguous impact for the unity of the United Kingdom and the process of European integration.
Following graduation next May, I will be moving to Washington DC where I plan to work for a year or two before pursuing my postgraduate degree in IR. While I am still uncertain of the exact direction I will take within the field of IR, I plan to take advantage of the opportunities in Washington DC to explore my interests in international affairs, foreign policy, security and defense cooperation, conflict resolution, and international development.