How can universities tackle the challenges and exploit the opportunities of Brexit?

Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law, University of Bristol Law School

Brexit will present the UK with a vast number of political, economic, social, and legal challenges and opportunities in the months and years ahead. In this short piece, Professor Phil Syrpis reflects on the steps taken within the University of Bristol to begin to tackle the challenges and exploit the opportunities.

From the time that it became clear, on the morning of Friday 24 June 2016, that the UK had voted to leave the EU, academics have been absorbing, reacting to, and in some cases seeking to shape, the political agenda. Events have been occurring at a dizzying pace. David Cameron was swiftly replaced by Theresa May; Parliament, after Gina Miller’s Supreme Court victory, voted to trigger Article 50 and begin the process of exiting the EU; White Papers and Negotiating Guidelines were issued; and we are now set for a General Election on 8 June, which looks set to be dominated by Brexit (that’s one of the very few predictions I feel able to make). Continue reading

The Turkish referendum thwarts civil rights struggles – in Europe and in Turkey

Dr Bahar Baser, Research Fellow at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations (Coventry University) and Associate Fellow at the Security Institute for Governance and Leadership in Africa (SIGLA) at Stellenbosch University.

Dr Aleksandra Lewicki, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Free University of Berlin and a member of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol.

On Sunday, 16th April 2017, Turkish citizens are to decide in a referendum whether Turkey’s parliamentary republic will be turned into a presidential system. Representatives of the Turkish Government have been campaigning in favour of this constitutional reform in Turkey, and have also organized rallies in European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands. Although absentee voter turnout lingered at less than 10% in previous elections, the large diaspora vote can still have a detrimental impact on the results.

Some of the rallies in Europe were cancelled due to security concerns. President Erdoğan immediately associated these reactions with mounting Islamophobia across Europe. He accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of ‘Nazi methods’ and suggested that ‘the spirit of fascism’ was ‘running rampant in Europe’. His ‘Yes’ Campaign appeals to anti-European sentiments and nourishes the “Sevres Syndrome”, whereby Erdoğan and the AKP present themselves as the alternative to those who threaten Turkey’s citizens’ interests and rights.

Chancellor Merkel, who relies on a deal with Turkey to keep the number of refugees arriving in Germany at its current low, rebuked such crude comparisons rather mildly as ‘unjustifiable’ and condemned the instrumentation of the victims of the National Socialist Regime. As national elections are coming up in September 2017, German political parties are worried of losing their voters to the right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which successfully mobilized Islamophobic sentiments in 2016. Therefore, although anti-Muslim attitudes are indeed gaining in influence in Germany, initiatives to address Islamophobia hardly feature on the current Government’s political agenda or the election campaign. Continue reading

29th March 2017 – a day of historical significance? How history is (mis)used to illustrate our ‘glorious’ present

Statue of Europe, Unity in Peace

Dr. Martin Hurcombe,
Reader, School of Modern Languages, University of Bristol

There are some who will no doubt greet the triggering of Article 50 on the 29th March 2017 as an occasion of historical significance. It may seem churlish to even state otherwise, but my sense is that this is not a date that will live long in the memory. It is simply the prelude to events of far greater importance, the scale of which few of us seriously claim to be able to gauge in all their potential complexity.

No doubt, though, politicians and journalists will once again be casting around for historic parallels, for popular aides-mémoires through which the public can grasp the event. They will struggle to find anything quite like this in living memory, so will have to delve deep into our nation’s bag of collective memories. I expect Boris Johnson’s paws will delve the deepest. Out will come toy spitfires, reminders of our island status and how we all pulled together (whoever we are now) in moments of national need.

War memories often act as handy markers of national identity. They are quintessential moments when the nation pulled together. It is therefore unsurprising that the Leave campaign so frequently returned to what Estelle Shirbon of Reuters dubbed ‘Britain’s World War Two fixation’.  The Blitz and Churchill (possibly one of the Conservative Party’s most ardent Europeans) were all trotted out, whilst the European Union was depicted by Johnson as Hitler’s victory from beyond the grave. Continue reading

Cheap goods at what cost? How the EU Road Package can address ‘unfair payments’ to truck drivers

© Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Peter Turnbull, profile photo

Professor Peter Turnbull, School of Economics, Finance & Management, University of Bristol

As you drive home at night, do you ever pause to think about the many trucks parked in lay-bys at the side of the road? You might be only a few miles from home, but the driver’s home could be thousands of miles away. Imagine if the truck door was the front door to your home, the truck cabin both your office and your bedroom. If this sounds far-fetched, then spare a thought for the thousands of East European truck drivers who work for weeks on end, sometimes months, in Western European countries, driving, eating and sleeping in their cab.

A survey of around 1,000 East European road haulage drivers published by the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) in 2013 found that the majority (60%) spent between 3-12 weeks away from home, 80% cooked and ate their own food in the lorry, 95% took their breaks and rest periods (including the weekly rest of 45 hours) in their lorries (contrary to EU working time regulations), 60% were paid by driven kilometres (despite EU Regulation 561/2006, Art.10 forbidding payments per kilometre schemes that have a negative impact on road safety), approximately 80% of the interviewed drivers stated that fatigue was a problem but they would not report it as they were afraid lose their job. A more recent 2015 study of 225 Bulgarian, Romanian and Macedonian drivers working in Denmark found that the average time working and living in their lorry away from home was 7 weeks (88% slept in their lorry most nights), pay was just €1,100 to €1,900 per month (16% were paid on the basis of kilometres driven), drivers reported regular breaches of the rules on working time and 13% stated that their employer exerted pressure on them to break the rules on driving and resting times. Continue reading

“Buy Brexit”? Using “cultural fit” as evaluation criteria breaches EU and UK public procurement law

Dr Albert Sanchez Graells, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

On March 1, 2017, The Guardian  reported that the UK’s Department for International Trade had tendered contracts where they expected that tech companies should have the right ‘cultural fit’ if they wanted to be hired. This was interpreted in the news report as a clear mechanism whereby “Firms bidding for government contracts [were] asked if they back Brexit“. It is indeed a worrying requirement due to the clear risk of unfettered discretion and ensuing discrimination that such ‘cultural fit’ requirement creates. In my opinion, the requirement runs contrary to both EU and UK public procurement rules (and this was later echoed by the follow-up coverage story by The Guardian as well: “Trade department may have broken EU rules with ‘pro-Brexit’ contract criteria”).

In this post, I develop the reasons for the assessment that such a ‘Buy Brexit’ requirement is illegal (which I previously published in my personal blog and the specialised EU Law Analysis blog). I will try to keep this post as jargon free as possible and limit the technical details of my legal assessment as much as possible. However, this is a rather technical area of economic law, so some technicalities will be unavoidable. Continue reading

Trump, Brexit and a crisis of participation in universities

Tom Sperlinger is Reader in English Literature and Community Engagement at the University of Bristol.

A friend of mine recently posted a link on Facebook to a Wall Street Journal article, ‘Blue Feed, Red Feed’, which allows readers to pick a topic – Hillary Clinton, say, or abortion – and see how the ‘other’ side of Facebook is talking about it. My friend wrote:

I and everyone I know (well, nearly everyone) finds Trump utterly disgusting, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. For others worried that we all (mostly) agree with each other, this is a useful side-by-side comparison of liberal and conservative Facebook.

I looked at the split screen on the topic of ‘guns’ and saw posts I recognised on the ‘blue’ side condemning Republican measures to reduce checks on those buying firearms. The ‘red’ side, meanwhile, included a link to a Federalist Papers website article criticising ‘leftists who don’t like guns’.

The divides that were exposed by Trump and Brexit are complex. Yet, in both votes, two sides emerged that were incomprehensible to each other and they split, above all, along levels of education. Continue reading

Brexit: can research light the way?

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Cressida Auckland, a Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) Fellow

Cressida Auckland, a Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) Fellow

Chandy Nath, acting Director of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)

Chandy Nath, acting Director of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)

What could Brexit mean for UK science? What impact will it have on UK fisheries? Could Brexit be bad news for emissions reductions? These were just some questions discussed at a Parliamentary conference last week, organised by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), the Commons Library and Parliament’s Universities Outreach team.

MPs researchers, Parliamentary staff and academic researchers from across the country came together to consider some of the key policy areas affected by the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

Continue reading

What does Trump mean for the environment?

Ed Atkins, PhD student in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies

Ed Atkins, PhD student in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol

Several weeks ago, I was walking along Avenida Paulista in São Paulo. Through the noise of the traffic, the familiar shout of one man’s name could be heard. ‘Trump, Trump, Trump’ echoed across the street.  Somehow I had stumbled upon a ‘Brazilians for Trump’ rally. A group of 40 people stood on the pavement, clutching signs that read ‘Women for Trump’, ‘Jews for Trump’, ‘Gays for Trump’. This struck me; such demographics holding such signage represented for me a similar message to ‘trees for deforestation’.

Yet, the votes are in. The electoral tally has been made and one fact is obvious: Donald Trump’s popularity transcended demography. As, House Speaker, Paul Ryan has said, Trump “heard a voice out in this country that no one else heard. He connected in ways with people that no one else did. He turned politics on its head.”

By Map by Robert Simmon, based on data from Woods Hole Research Center. (http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=76697) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

2011 map of the United States above-ground woody biomass with 66 ecoregions delineated, showing tons of trees and their forests by hectare. Based on the map and palette created by NASA’s Earth Observatory employee Robert Simmon. Credit – Robert Simmon NASA/Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

Key here is not only Trump’s victory, but also how the Republican Party has been able to ride his coattails to majorities across both the Senate and the House of Representatives. In doing so, the Grand Old Party (GOP), working with Trump, will likely have the freedom to pursue their political agenda. As a result, the Republican platform, published at the 2016 National Convention, provides a number of clues of what we can expect from this new administration. Continue reading

Miller: Why the Government should argue that Article 50 is reversible

Dr Phil Syrpis, Reader in Law, University of Bristol

Professor Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law, University of Bristol

Last week’s judgement in the High Court is a ringing endorsement of the sovereignty of Parliament. It asserts that ‘Parliament can, by enactment of primary legislation, change the law of the land in any way it chooses’ (at [20]).

It explains why the ‘subordination of the Crown (i.e. executive government) to law is the foundation of the rule of law in the United Kingdom’ (at [26]), including references to the bedrock of the UK’s Constitution, the Glorious Revolution, the Bill of Rights, and constitutional jurist AV Dicey’s An Introduction to the Law of the Constitution.

The Crown has broad powers on the international plane, for example to make and unmake treaties, but as a matter of English law, these powers reach their limits where domestic law rights are affected. EU law, by virtue of the European Communities Act 1972 (described again as a constitutional statute), does indeed have direct effect in domestic law. As a result of the fact that the decision to withdraw from the European Union would have a direct bearing on various

The Royal Courts of Justice in London, home of the Senior Courts of England and Wales. Credit- Anthony M. from Rome, Italy - Flickr

The Royal Courts of Justice in London, home of the Senior Courts of England and Wales. Credit- Anthony M. from Rome, Italy – Flickr

categories of rights outlined in the judgement (at [57]-[61]), the Crown cannot, without the approval of Parliament, give notice under Article 50.  Continue reading

Post-truth politics: Why do facts no longer matter to so many people?

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Psychology, University of Bristol

Virtually unknown a few years ago, the terms “post-fact” and “post-truth” have exploded onto the media scene in 2016, with thousands of articles around the globe expressing concern over the absence of a shared body of facts and evidence in public and political debate. This concern is buttressed by evidence that the public is misinformed about a range of issues, from vaccinations to climate change and the fabled Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.

Politicians have always sought refuge in fantasy or subterfuge when confronted by uncomfortable facts. So why the sudden concern with the emergence of “post-truth” politics? Two factors can be identified that confirm that the landscape of public discourse has changed: first, the brazenness with which some politicians have unshackled themselves from the constraints of evidence and reality, and second, the public’s acquiescence with this flight into fantasy land. Continue reading