Brexit and the future of the EU-UK special relationship

Screenshot 2018-12-19 at 14.55.47

On 3 December 2018, we discussed Brexit and the future of the EU-UK special relationship in a NORTIA practitioner-academic event, organised by our colleagues from KU Leuven.

Nortia leuven2


In my opening comments I discussed 3 main points:

  • how we went back to quickly to “Business as usual”. Brexit is going to hurt everyone. In the past 25 years, Europeans made declaration after declaration of how they want to keep shaping the international environment. On how they want to be the “voice of reason” that invests in battling climate change, on how they want to be the considerate voices that protect international law and human rights.

And all those aims  went out the window in the past two years.

  • Brexit a case-study of how our democracies are challenged or failing

taking back control” is an often used phrase in the Brexit discourse, but it also pops up time and again in populist arguments in other European countries. But it is a myth. No country can be internationally successful by working on its own. Cooperation instead of self-interested control is necessary, but not part of the repertoire that wins party politics or voters.

The damaging hypocracy: How can a country like the UK or France or Austria point the finger to Orban and tell him not to continue his rebuilding of a more authoritarian Hungary?

Expertise and knowledge, but also looking beyond the next two years is not considered a virtue anymore.

And last but most damaging for international cooperation, is the pushed idea of “the winner takes it all“. The majority needs to rule – that is the standard definition of populism.

  • Brexit as case of how easy to dismantle 50 years of intensified European cooperation

 What Brexit and other populist trends in Europe have in common is this notion that NOTHING should constrain the “will of the people”

Trump: no international law or international commitments

Orban: no Geneva conventions

May: no EU treaty that UK government signed

That is not how most constitutional democracies or international cooperation work. Constitutions were created to protect citizens from the rule of the majority; International treaties were created to constrain future action and ensure commitment for basic common goods like human rights.

But most damaging, this thinking shows a neglect for liberal understanding for cooperation: where it is about solving problems together by coming up with policy solutions where everyone gains, not just the strongest.


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