On Wednesday the 28th of September , PubAffairs Bruxelles hosted a debate on the effects of Brexit on the UK and the EU, with Ms Julie Girling MEP (ECR, UK), Mr Frank Engel MEP (EPP, LU) and Mr Seb Dance (S&D, UK). The event was moderated by Graham Bishop, Leading Expert in EU and UK Economic, Financial and Government Affairs.
Mr Graham Bishop introduced the speakers and asked, as a first point of discussion, what the speakers’ perception of the situation was and how Brexit would affect both the UK and the EU.
Ms Girling revealed that she voted to remain, despite being a British Conservatives member, which highlighted the split within the party that was representative of the split experienced in the UK. She believed that the current antagonism between the two positions was not helpful. She further felt that the outcome is not a ‘lose-lose’ situation, as the EU could gain from Brexit, by introducing changes, such as associate membership. She feared such changes could be attractive to the British public, but that they would not be able to enjoy them as they would no longer be part of the Union. Ms Girling did not share the moderator’s optimism of the UK eventually remaining in the EU, as she believed that forces within the UK were pushing the debate on Brexit towards a ‘Hard Brexit’. She further predicted that the UK would not trigger Article 50 until May 2017, though she did not believe that this would make much of a difference.
Mr Engel believed that the continual negative attitude towards the EU portrayed by the British media for the past thirty years had led to the current situation. He also felt that the result of the referendum confirmed the UK’s belief that its democratic aspirations could not be achieved on a multi-national level. Mr Engel further stated that he was sure that the UK would be able to survive following the exit from the EU, though he felt that it was depriving itself of future opportunities. With regard to the future of the EU, Mr Engel argued that Brexit could provide the appropriate environment for Europe to achieve the changes it never managed to implement while the UK was part of the Union, such as the creation of a European army. He believed that Brexit does not signify a ‘lose-lose’ situation, rather it has the potential to de-block some European policies.
Mr Dance agreed with Mr Engel that the Remain Campaign was never able to compete with Euroscepticism provided by the some parts of the British Media. He was further afraid that leaving the EU would lead to a huge opportunity cost for the UK, as the single market provided by the Union ensured that British manufacturing and services could survive. He further added that leaving the EU would lead the UK to become materially poorer. Mr Dance concluded that the current situation could lead to three different scenarios, namely one, the UK not leaving the EU, regardless if the Article 50 is invoked or not, two, a transitional single market, and three, a ‘Hard Brexit’.
A second point of discussion concerned the media bias when discussing the EU.
Mr Engel argued that the media in general lack accountability. He believed that a serious debate with the media about their social responsibility and influence was needed. Ms Girling revealed that she had a low esteem of the media, as she doubted that it could give a fair and balanced view. She further felt that the British media coverage of the EU has always been a reflection of the general feeling amongst the British population, whose feeling towards Europe has always been distant. She also did not discount the different views amongst generations, with the younger British generations being more open towards Europe, playing a significant role in the outcome of the referendum. She concluded by stating that she was more concerned with whether the outcome of the Brexit negotiations would be properly scrutinized in public discourse. Mr Dance was worried that, under freedom of speech, the British press was being irresponsible. He further agreed with Ms Girling that public discourse should occur on the outcome of the negotiations and hold the pro-Brexit party accountable for their promises.
A third point of discussion concerned the possibility of the UK withdrawing the Article 50 notice, and how it should come to terms with changes that have occurred while it was not participating in EU policy decisions.
Mr Dance was unsure whether such a scenario could materialise. He stressed however, that the other European governments should learn from the UK experience in order to address Euroscepticism. Ms Girling believed that it would be unlikely that the EU would make substantial progress in the limited amount of time that the UK would be absent, though she acknowledged that the UK would have to come to terms with steps taken towards further European integration. She further felt that the EU would not be ready to accept the UK back, unless the UK showed more enthusiasm about the EU project, and that UK might not be in the best negotiating position should it want to re-join the EU. Ms Girling concluded by stating that the EU is currently faced with serious issues, but that it would have a greater chance to fully address such issues with the UK out of the EU. Mr Engel argued that invoking Article 50 was irreversible and no legal framework exists to revoke such a decision. He advised the British Government to seriously consider whether it would want to eventually trigger it. Mr Engel concluded by stating that he looked forward to seeing the EU make actual progress, but this would require political leadership and cohesion.
The final part of the debate, a Q&A session, also covered the following issues: whether more serious issues concerning the EU were being posed at different stages, such as the refugee crisis; how realistic it would be to have second referendum; Angela Merkel’s position; the impact of a second Scottish independence referendum; whether the EU could be blamed for the outcome of the referendum; special membership deals in the EU; and continental partnerships.
Do you want to go further into the issues discussed in our debate? Check our list of selected sources which we have provided for you
Brexit: What are the options? | BBC
Latest Analysis | UK in a changing Europe
Britain’s Future in Europe | Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS)
Brexit and the future of the European Union [What Think Tanks are thinking] | EP Think Tank
Britain and the EU | Center for European Reform (CER)