Brexit is the single biggest change in UK politics post-1945. Leaving the EU will affect every single aspect of UK public policy from agriculture and local development to foreign policy and international relations, and everything in between.
However, the specific impact of this change will be determined by the outcomes of the UK-EU negotiation process. Dr Anil Awesti, from the Centre for Lifelong Learning is running a series of free open seminars that anybody can attend. These seminars will be on a range of topics at a level that is accessible to all. We caught up with him about his interest in the topic and his view on the key issues of Brexit.
The fascinating thing about Brexit…is how radical a step it is for the UK, both as an event in itself and in terms of its repercussions. Political change in the UK usually occurs in an incremental way, through a series of steps over a period of time – in that sense, the UK has a very conservative (with a small ‘c’) political culture. Whilst this can frustrate those wishing for fundamental change, this slower pace allows for a process of learning to occur amongst policy-makers who are able to adapt and update policies to create (it is hoped) better policy outcomes.
However, the majority public vote in favour of leaving the EU has mandated a transformative process in a relatively short space of time. Leaving the EU entails the UK removing itself from a political, economic, social and security structure that it has embedded itself within over the past 46 years. As a result, every part of UK public policy is intertwined with the EU to some extent and to varying degrees. In this sense, the process of Brexit is an anathema to the normal way of doing things. The political architecture of the UK is not designed to deal with such situations which in turn helps explain the difficulties the government has faced over the past two years. The fact that the political class did not expect nor plan for a vote in favour of ‘Leave’ has certainly exacerbated these difficulties. Witnessing and analysing this process is a fascinating exercise.
The purpose of the seminars is to… analyse the UK-EU Brexit negotiations in real time so we cover the developments that occur between each class. As such, there is not a set agenda. Over the past few months, we have covered issues such as the UK/EU approaches to negotiations, the Withdrawal Agreement, the Irish border dilemma, potential other models for UK/EU relations, the extension of Article 50, a second referendum etc. As you can imagine, recent classes have been dominated by discussion on debates going on within and between the UK government, parliament, and parties.
It is very difficult for any of us to understand the implications of Brexit…for the UK because it is such a unique event. No member state has ever left the EU previously and the EU never imagined one would. Added to this is the fact that we still do not know the exact terms on which the UK will leave the EU because a Withdrawal Agreement has not been finalised and negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and EU have not even started in earnest! What this situation highlights is the importance of policy detail. The specific details of policies can often be presented as being boring and unimportant relative to the headline-grabbing policy goal. However, it is the precise detail of UK-EU agreements that will determine the repercussions of Brexit for both the UK and the EU.
On face value Brexit is… simply the process of the UK leaving the EU organisation. The formal legal process for a member state leaving the EU is set out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which states that a member state which decides to withdraw will notify the EU of its intention and will leave two years after the notification, unless the EU, ‘in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period’.
However, on a deeper level, Brexit is so much more than this. Brexit has brought to the fore a series of existential questions about the state of the UK today. Questions surrounding the socio-economic inequalities in our country, the increasing ‘ghettoisation’ of society, British identity, the extent to which the UK political system is fit for purpose, the future of the UK as a single country, and the UK’s role in the world to name but a few. As such, Brexit is an intriguing lens through which to analyse the UK in the 21st century.
Brexit impacts… on every sphere of public policy and therefore is of relevance to all social science disciplines. There are political, economic, social, legal, philosophical and cultural dimensions to Brexit and the potential impact of Brexit is profound across all of these areas.
I have witnessed two types of responses to Brexit in CLL students…, similar to the wider public. On one hand, there are people who are extremely interested in the topic and are intently following developments as they proceed. On the other hand, there are those who have had enough of the daily drama and soap opera of Brexit as presented in the media and say that they simply want it all to be finalised and completed now. Whilst understandable, my response to the latter group is on what basis do they want the situation to be finalised. Do they think the UK should remain in the EU single market and customs union, leave entirely or negotiate some alternative arrangements? The answer to these types of questions will have concrete impact on their lives.
No matter how the UK leaves the EU (or if it does at all), the issue of Brexit will dominate the UK political landscape for years to come due to its fundamental nature and the questions it has highlighted. There will be plenty to keep us all busy for years to come!
About the Blogger:
Dr Anil Awesti is a Senior Teaching Fellow and Senior Tutor in the Centre for Lifelong Learning. His research interests are in Widening Participation, in particular issues of access, participation, retention and progression of students from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds in universities.