Sunday, 4 September 2016

Facts about Brexit

The Electoral Reform Society has produced a report saying that the public felt “totally ill-informed” by the debate during the Referendum. I found during some talks I gave during the campaign many people who said exactly that. I don’t altogether buy this, as there were and are numerous high quality sources of information that can be found at the click of a mouse.

In fact I think what was more of a problem was a surfeit of competing claims, and what was lacking was any authoritative analysis of these. One reason for that, of course, was the environment created by the Leave campaign in which “experts” were derided, and with that derision came an erosion of any claims to authority. Another reason was the way that the BBC – still the main and most trusted news source in the UK – approached the campaign in terms of its interpretation of ‘balance’. What this meant was treating every claim as having two equal sides to it, and in the process abdicating any responsibility for evaluating those claims, especially the notorious “£350M a week for the NHS” lie.

Actually, what was even worse was that any external voice warning against Brexit – Obama’s ‘back of the queue’ comment being the most high-profile example – was treated by the BBC as a statement by the Remain campaign and so ‘balance’ only required a response from the Leave campaign. This played directly into the narrative of the Leavers that such interventions were part of an orchestrated attempt by ‘the elite’ to oppose Brexit.

Now that we are post-Referendum, the need for good sources of information has not diminished, and so here I list some accessible websites that I have found especially useful.

Head and shoulders above anything else is the excellent EU Law Analysis blog, run by Professor Steve Peers of Essex University. It is not by any means solely concerned with Brexit, of course, but includes many posts on this which deal with the complex, technical realities.

The Conversation, a site which makes academic work accessible to general readers, has published many articles on Brexit [disclaimer: a couple of them by me], some of which are highly informative, which can be accessed via this link. The New Europeans site [another disclaimer: I have also written on this site] carries a wide range of factual and op-ed pieces of high quality, and the LSE Brexit blog is an excellent curation from many sources including LSE’s in-house experts.

General sites aside, this pre-Brexit report by Jean-Claude Piris from the Centre for European Reform on what different Brexit scenarios could look like is very useful. The last of the seven scenarios listed is trade under WTO rules, and it has always been an article of faith to Brexiters that this is the available default setting. But in fact it is highly problematic and would require extensive negotiation, as this excellent piece from Peter Ungphakorn, a former WTO official, explains.

Finally, and rather different, I suspect that this document could become significant. It is a plan for Brexit, drawn up by an ex-UKIP member, known as the Flexcit plan. Its significance is that it proposes Brexit-lite as a first step towards a more comprehensive ‘market’ approach in which the EU single market would cease to be administered by the EU and would instead be run by the UN European Commission Europe. It is in this respect complete fantasy, but it is of interest as it is conceivable that Brexiters might accept Brexit-lite as a gateway to this unrealisable goal.

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