British politics is failing the Brexit test

Dr Hugh Pemberton Reader in Contemporary British History, University of Bristol, Department of History

Dr Hugh Pemberton
Reader in Contemporary British History, University of Bristol, Department of History

What have we learned in the days since Britain voted to leave the EU by a margin of 3.8 percentage points?

The UK has jettisoned its foreign policy of 55 years, the political class is paralysed, and the country is in dangerous economic waters. This is a political failure on a scale unprecedented in modern British history which calls into question fundamental features of our political system.

First, it is clear nobody has the slightest idea how Brexit (either ‘hard’ or ‘soft’) is to be accomplished. Those campaigning for a Leave vote had no plan for how it might be achieved in a way that would not impose lasting damage on the country by crimping exports to countries that represent 45% of our overseas trade. Astonishingly, no serious contingency planning had been done within Whitehall, which consequently, is having radically to reorientate itself and try to find people with the necessary skills.

Second, many of the dire predictions of ‘project truth’ were right. The pound is at a low not seen for 31 years – not a bad thing for exporters but a significant loss for international investors in our economy, and in our government’s debt, that may ultimately have consequences for their confidence in us. There are serious concerns that the widespread economic uncertainty is leading a downturn in business investment, not least in the all-important service and construction sectors, and to large scale cancellation of investment, creating the conditions for recession. Many large firms (e.g. HSBC) are already implementing plans to redeploy parts of their business and workforce to the Continent. As the Bank of England has warned, Brexit is ‘crystallising’ very serious economic risks as well as posing a major foreign policy challenge.

Continue reading

The law and politics of withdrawal from the EU

On Thursday June 23, the people had their say. Over 17 million Britons voted to leave the EU. The outcome was clear, and should be respected.

Nevertheless, the future is shrouded in uncertainty. Months of campaigning failed to produce good answers to what have become urgent questions. The uncertainty relates both to the mechanism of withdrawal, and to the terms of any withdrawal agreement and future trade agreement with the EU.  As no Member State has ever withdrawn from the EU, there are no relevant precedents. This is uncharted territory; these are interesting times.

The law – Article 50 TEU

Article 50 TEU, introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon, provides the mechanism for withdrawal from the EU.

It makes several things clear. A Member State may decide to withdraw ‘in accordance with its own constitutional arrangements’. In the UK, that decision is taken under prerogative powers by the Prime Minister of the day. Thus, it is for the Prime Minister to decide when to notify the European Council. The European Commission appears to have accepted over the weekend that it cannot (legally, at any rate) oblige the UK to trigger Article 50. The UK appears to be waiting until there is a new Prime Minister in place. There are suggestions that it might decide to wait until after the elections in France and Germany in 2017.

Continue reading

Would a Brexit significantly change the way the English public sector buys supplies and services?

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

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

There has been some serious thought put into the potential implications of Brexit for the ways in which the UK public sector buys supplies and services—or, in technical terms, on the Brexit implications from a public procurement perspective. Academics, such as Dr Pedro Telles, and practitioners such as Michael Bowsher QC, Peter Smith, Roger Newman or Kerry Teahan have started to reflect on the likely consequences from a legal and business case perspective.

The overwhelming consensus is that a Brexit is highly unlikely to result in any significant substantive changes of the rules applicable to the public sector’s buying activity and that existing ‘EU-based regulation’ (notably, the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, as already amended by the Public Procurement (Amendments, Repeals and Revocations) Regulations 2016) is very likely to be replaced by an almost identical ‘English-reimagined regulation’. Economic studies, such as that carried out by Global Counsel, have also considered the likely impact of Brexit on public procurement as moderate—although in the economic area there is less consensus, as pointed out by Procurious.

Overall, it may seem that public procurement is an area where a Brexit would be unlikely to create much more than legal uncertainty and some economic costs (which are for the UK population to evaluate) and that, after a suitable (possibly long) period of time, new rules would be in place and the sector would carry on as usual. Optimists may identify an opportunity to improve existing rules once the EU requirements are set aside and a distinct English-reimagined regulation can be adopted and implemented (if that is at all possible, which most commentators reject). I would like to entertain that possibility for a second and consider to what extent the creation of a significantly better English-reimagined public procurement regulation is likely to materialise.

Continue reading

Let’s Take Back Control – Or Should We?

Dr Phil Syrpis, Reader in Law, University of Bristol

Dr Phil Syrpis, Reader in Law, University of Bristol

During the referendum campaign on the UK’s membership of the European Union, arguments focusing on democracy have tended to be the preserve of those advocating for a Brexit. The rallying cry to “take back control” of “our” laws and borders, has become Vote Leave’s mantra.

There is some force behind this message. There is no doubt that EU membership entails costs, and by joining the EU, states agree to be bound by EU treaties. Both the treaties and EU legislation – typically adopted in the form of regulations or directives – are supreme over national law.

This hierarchy is applied by national courts, who, across Europe, have found creative ways of ensuring that they give full effect to EU law. The House of Lords and Supreme Court have consistently held that where UK law conflicts with provisions of the EU treaties, it cannot be applied – though the UK courts are at pains to emphasise the qualified nature of the primacy of EU law.

The EU treaties also give the EU legislature a broad competence to act. For example, the EU has created an internal market in Europe and has imposed a range of social and environmental standards on its member states.

In addition, the judicial arm of the EU – the European Court of Justice – has held that a number of national rules breach EU law. This has had a significant influence on the regulatory landscape in the member states, such as strengthening equal pay laws.

So there is no doubt that EU law creates constraints which affect the ability of the member states to control their laws – and that Brexit would indeed enable the UK to take back some control. But, when we examine the way in which these constraints are imposed and consider the alternatives, the leave campaign’s case begins to take on a different hue.

Continue reading

What would Brexit mean for the UK’s conflict prevention and peace-building influence outside the EU?

GUSTAVE: Why do you want to be a lobby boy?

The elevator operator casts a sideways look. Zero searches for the honest answer – then finds it:

ZERO: Well, who wouldn’t – at the Grand Budapest, sir? It’s an institution.

GUSTAVE: (deeply impressed) Very good.

Grand Budapest Hotel [2014]

One of the UK’s primary forms of power projection in the world is through its conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts. But this power is largely projected through the amplifier of one or other multinational institution, and in particular the EU. Eva Bertram highlights that ‘full-scale peace-building efforts are nothing short of attempts at nation building; they seek to remake a state’s political institutions, security forces, and economic arrangements’. The UK simply does not have the resources required in order to achieve this bilaterally: in terms of aid spending, the UK’s global budget for 2016/17 is just over £4billion, while the EU gives over €50billion per year in aid.

Brexit would have a negative impact on both the UK’s soft power and its hard power. Hard power is, broadly, the ability to coerce via economic or military means. Soft power is the power to impel others to do something without using force or coercion. The UK has for a long time punched well above its weight internationally owing to its post-colonial soft power—a heavily romanticised image of what Britain once was, ignoring the violence that underpinned colonialism and retaining the quaint exterior of the erstwhile empire.

Continue reading

The West Decides: The EU Referendum Debate

Professor Steven Greer, from the University of Bristol Law School, attended The West Decides: EU Referendum Debate and writes up his summary of the event.

Professor Steven Greer FAcSS FRSA, Professor of Human Rights, University of Bristol Law School

Professor Steven Greer FAcSS FRSA,
Professor of Human Rights, University of Bristol Law School

On the evening of Friday, 29 April 2016, a capacity audience in the University of Bristol’s Wills Memorial Building Great Hall witnessed and participated in a lively and impassioned debate, supported by PolicyBristol and the University of Bristol Alumni Association, about whether the UK should leave or remain a member of the EU.

Introduced by Professor Nick Lieven (Pro Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Aircraft Dynamics), and professionally chaired by Dr Phil Sypris (Reader in Law), the ‘Leave’ team consisted of Daniel Hannan (Conservative MEP) and Graham Stringer (Labour MP), while the case for ‘Remain’ was put by Molly Scott-Cato (Green MEP) and Will Hutton (former editor-in-chief of The Observer and currently Principal of Hertford College, Oxford, and Chair of the Big Innovation Centre).

Before inviting the panellists to open the debate, Dr Syrpis asked the audience for a show of hands. Roughly 80 per cent were in favour of the UK remaining in the EU, 10 per cent for leaving, and 10 per cent were undecided. The formal proceedings themselves began and ended with each member of the panel summarising their case in a one minute presentation. In between the same format applied to a series of six questions chosen by students from those submitted by members of the prospective audience and circulated to panellists in advance. Contributions from the floor followed. Before the event ended, a second show of hands saw little change in the initial figures, with Remain still standing at around 80 per cent, Leave dropping to about 5 per cent and the proportion of undecideds increasing slightly to around 15 per cent.

Continue reading

Devolution: Greater transparency and legitimacy needed in decision making

Dr Sarah Ayres: Reader in Public Policy and Governance, Chair of the commission

Dr Sarah Ayres: Reader in Public Policy and Governance, Chair of the commission

That is the conclusion of the Political Studies Association’s Research Commission to examine the role of ‘informal governance’ on devolution to England’s cities. The Commission, chaired by Dr Sarah Ayres launched its report at a round table event at the Institute for Government on 3rd March 2016. The report offers some reflections on the process of decision making around the devolution deals to date. It draws on the shared learning and experiences of key actors involved to identify elements that have worked well and also potential areas for improvement. It concludes that the devolution agenda offers a real opportunity to empower local areas, boost economic productivity and improve public services. Yet, there is a danger that the initiative will falter in the absence of greater clarity around process and enhanced local ownership of decision making.

The UK has long been regarded as one of the most centralised states in Europe. Yet, since the Scottish Referendum and the election of a Conservative Government in May 2015, the devolution agenda in England has moved forward at a rapid pace. It offers a real opportunity to significantly transform the way England is governed. There is energy and momentum behind English devolution that has the potential to address growing public concerns about the governance of England in a devolved United Kingdom. Central Government proposals for devolution have been met largely with enthusiasm from local areas and there is a firm commitment in parts of Government to see the devolution of power in core policy areas such as transport, economic development and regeneration and public service reform.

Continue reading

Are we really witnessing a great ‘devolution deception’?

Ben Harrison is the Director of Partnerships at the Centre for Cities.

Ben Harrison is the Director of Partnerships at the Centre for Cities.

This was first posted on the Centre for Cities blog.

Festival of Social Science, a debate took place in Bristol on 9/11/15 on the impacts of directly elected mayors on cities, including contributions from Baroness Barbara Janke, former Leader of Bristol City Council and Member of the House of Lords, Thom Oliver, Political Scientist, UWE, David Sweeting, Senior Lecturer, University of Bristol, and Ben Harrison, Centre for Cities.  A lively debate included reference to George Osborne’s plans for cities and city regions, and particularly whether we are witnessing a ‘devolution deception’.

Here, Ben Harrison argues the case against such an interpretation. 

To dismiss the Government’s devolution agenda simply as a “deception” is to opt out of a debate at the very time that real change is finally possible.

I was recently in Bristol earlier this week speaking about the merits of directly elected mayors, when I heard a familiar refrain during the audience Q and A. Far from being a significant redistribution of power from the central state to local areas, the Government’s entire devolution agenda, the attendee said, was nothing more than a “devolution deception”.

This is far from the only time I’ve heard this kind of critique put forward, not least from the national Labour party and its new leader, and earlier this week from the leader of the Liberal Democrats. But does it really stack up – is the Government really deceiving people when it comes to its intentions on devolution?

Continue reading

Amendment to earlier blog post: Are the Conservatives ‘now the Party of Work’? The Trade Union Bill suggests not…

Professor Michael Ford QC joined the Bristol law School in 2015 and specialises in labour law, human rights and public law.

Professor Michael Ford QC joined the Bristol law School in 2015 and specialises in labour law, human rights and public law.

Tonia Novitz is Professor of Labour Law, specialising in labour law, international trade and human rights.

Tonia Novitz is Professor of Labour Law, specialising in labour law, international trade and human rights.

Since Tonia and Michael’s last blog of 12 October 2015, the Government has now abandoned proposed restrictions on unions’ freedom of protest away from the workplace, probably because even the police did not identify a problem with the existing legal framework (see the response to consultation). But the government still wishes to amend the Code of Practice on picketing to cover e.g. intimidation on the picket line and the ‘responsible’ use of social media in strikes, with uncertain legal effect. No wonder the Trade Union Bill has been opposed not only by trade unions, such as Unison and Unite, but also by human rights NGOs. See for example the Joint Statement by Liberty, the British Institute of Human Rights, and Amnesty International.

The original blog follows.

Continue reading

Counterterrorism and Muslims in Britain: What’s the problem? What’s the solution?

Thinking Futures Festival Event – Get your tickets here.

For over a decade and a half the world has witnessed a dramatic rise in a distinctive kind of violent militancy. Much about it is controversial, including how it should be understood, described and addressed. There is even little, if any consensus, about how it should be labelled. Terms currently employed include: ‘violent jihadism’, ‘jihadi terrorism’, ‘violent Islamism’, ‘violent Islamic extremism’, ‘Islamist terrorism’, to mention but a few.

But two characteristics cannot be denied: it is violent and Islam is invoked as the justification by those who resort to it. However, the precise nature of this relationship is hotly disputed. Some claim that the connection is purely contingent and has no real significance because, while Islamic terminology is employed, the motives and goals of those involved have, in fact, little or nothing to do with Islam. By contrast, others maintain that it is nothing less than the logical extension of Islam given current conditions and recent developments. Of the many positions in between is the view that the conception of Islam invoked is an utterly debased and distorted misunderstanding of the faith, totally at variance with its true, best or better interpretations.

Continue reading