SFS On Topic: Brexit

A referendum (popularly referred to as “Brexit”) was held on Thursday, June 23, 2016 to decide whether the UK should leave or remain in the European Union. The SFS community, including faculty and alumni, weighed in on the political and economic implications of the historic result, which called for the UK to leave the EU.

Implications for Britain and the EU

“The consequences of the Brexit decision will be unfolding over a period of time and be more dangerous for Britain than for the rest of the EU. The Scottish question as well as the Irish question might destroy the UK as we know it before we have tackled the nitty-gritty of unravelling and replacing all of those treaties that regulate Britain’s relations with the other 27 member states. As to economic consequences, it is too early to say. It just depends on how much of the common market arrangements continue. Threats heard today from the Brussels leadership as well as the French president are likely to be wishful thinking as the 27 have very different agendas. Germany is likely to want a moderate transition, just like all of the Brexit leaders including Boris Johnson have said, there is no hurry.”
-Ilja Alexander Tüchter (SFS’93, MSFS’94) is a German EU-citizen and foreign editor at DIE RHEINPFALZ, one of the larger daily newspapers in Germany. Read more of his analysis of Brexit here.

“The referendum outcome is a reality check for the EU, and I’m confident European leaders get the message and will take meaningful steps to bring the European project more in line with the desires and needs of ordinary citizens. This is also a reality check for the UK, and there, I’m less confident about the response, at least in the near term, because in many respects this outcome represents a flight from reality, even though it comes with a democratic seal of approval.”
-Dr. Jeffrey Anderson is the Graf Goltz Professor and Director of the BMW Center for German and European Studies in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

British politicians hoping to get a special deal with Europe in the wake of Brexit will face strong headwinds. Merkel’s primary short-term concern is to stop the chain of dominoes from collapsing. For Berlin, the real risk after Brexit is that countries from Sweden to Hungary might call for their own exit referendums. If other countries started to peel away, Germany would fear enormous damage to the internal market that it relies on for its exports and the political project that it has spent the last 70 years building. The risk of a train of dominoes also casts uncertainty over European decision-making on a host of critical issues to Berlin, from migration to banking union.”
-Dr. Abraham Newman is associate professor of international politics at Georgetown University. Read more of his analysis of Brexit in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage.


-Dr. Abraham Newman is associate professor international politics at Georgetown University.

“The UK will have to renegotiate its relationship with the EU, while simultaneously managing the expectations of its citizens and of the markets. A collection of treaties will determine the extent to which the UK will continue to enjoy a single market, common defense, agricultural policy, intelligence sharing, and international cooperation with the rest of the continent. The EU might gain a new member, if Scotland votes to leave the UK. Additionally, the path to higher political integration in the EU might be simpler without the UK. A more politically integrated Union might actually curb the ‘democratic deficit’ that produced so much resentment across the continent.”
-Dr. Carlo Prato, Assistant Professor of Economics at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

Alexander Lambsdorff “Brexit is a wake-up call for Europe. However, fears that Brexit might lead to the disintegration of the EU are widely off the mark. Eastern European states depend heavily on EU money and have no interest in leaving after decades as members of the Soviet empire. Moreover, the six founding member states have already declared that they want to move forward towards deeper integration. Much will now depend on leadership in the EU to use this momentum to drive change.”
-Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (MSFS’94) is the Vice President of the European Parliament.

“For the moment, there is instability in Britain particularly, but also in the EU, as they try to determine what a Brexit realistically means. Short-term, the UK is experiencing financial and political turmoil. Prime Minister David Cameron – who is being blamed for a lot of what is happening – has said he will step down in October, making way for a new leader who should be the one to trigger Article 50, to begin the formal process of leaving. In the past few days, however, there has been a lot of back-and-forth about this timeline and questions raised about a possible reversal of the vote to leave. Certain voices in the EU want this timeline sped up to reduce instability. They have asked that the formal process be triggered as soon as possible, in an effort to shorten the period of instability, and (though the renegotiation can technically last up to two years) they would like a deal to be agreed [upon] as soon as possible. The U.S. government has been nervous about the political upheaval in one of its closest allies, but will be able to maintain its interests elsewhere in Europe – particularly in Germany, which has become an increasingly important strategic partner over the last decade.”
-Emily Buss (MAGES’13) is a Program Assistant in the Wilson Center’s Global Europe Program.

“Obviously having the Britain vote to leave weakens the European Union [and] has unknown consequences.  It’s not immediately clear how Russia benefits from this. What the Kremlin wants is a new global order, not one imposed by the U.S. and its European allies.”
-Dr. Angela Stent is the director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University. These comments were made to Voice of America on June 28, 2016.


-Dr. Abraham Newman is associate professor international politics at Georgetown University.

“[Brexit] will result in uncertainty for the social science community, with implications for research funding, international collaboration, freedom of movement, and capacity building. The Academy of Social Sciences and its Campaign for Social Science believe the UK Government will need to consider the implications for UK research in its post-referendum negotiations if UK research excellence is to be protected.”
-Dr. Ashley Lenihan (SFS’00, PhD’09) is a senior policy adviser for the UK Academy of Social Sciences, and was the primary author of a note released Friday morning on the impact of Brexit for the UK Social Science community (higher education and private/public sector research as a whole). To read more from the note, click here.

Role of Immigration

“The Brexit vote was driven by a public reaction against EU bureaucracy, over-regulation, and a sense that decisions were being made by elites in Brussels without British citizens having sufficient voice. Resistance to immigration was also a factor, including concerns that migrants admitted to Germany might ultimately have automatic access to the UK.”
-Dr. Robert J. Lieber, Professor of Government and International Affairs at Georgetown University

The immigration debate was front and center in the Brexit referendum debates. However, it is merely a symptom of a larger trend in western societies. Data shows that the British working and lower middle classes have predominately voted in favour of Brexit. These are the same people that would vote for Donald Trump in the US or Marine le Pen in France. Since the 1980s, globalisation has led to a disenfranchised group that increasingly votes anti-establishment. Policy-makers in all Western democracies are called upon to adequately address this trend which probably has more profound and lasting impact on political choice than short-term spikes in immigration.”
-Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (MSFS’94) is the Vice President of the European Parliament.

“The Vote Leave campaign linked immigration to the issue of EU membership with one goal in mind: to build a broad narrative of how the British citizen has been progressively disenfranchised by global internationalism. Politically, it was a clever move. While the number of British who are skeptical about the EU has not changed that much in the last 15 years, there is growing consensus about the need to reduce immigration. This shift in public opinion is hardly a surprise: in the last decade, the UK was hit by the Great Recession and suffered from severe cuts in public services, all the while its share of foreign-born population was more than doubling.”
-Dr. Carlo Prato, Assistant Professor of Economics at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

emily_buss_high_res“Immigration played a huge role. In theory, these concerns were about the free movement of people and labor, enshrined in the EU’s Single Market, so those voting in favor of leaving were concerned about other Europeans coming to Britain to take advantage of jobs and benefits. In fact, I think this was much more of a visceral response to the ongoing refugee crisis and the feeling that Britain’s doors were open to the rest of Europe – despite the fact that Britain is not a member of the “border-less” Schengen area. People in the UK saw the enormous number of refugees entering Germany and France and responded to the perception that being part of the European Union meant the refugees would be flooding into the UK next.”
-Emily Buss (MAGES’13) is a Program Assistant in the Wilson Center’s Global Europe Program.

What’s Next for Scotland?

-Dr. Abraham Newman is associate professor international politics at Georgetown University.

“The Brexit vote, plus the Scottish call for a second referendum, now threatens a possible breakup of the UK.”
-Dr. Robert J. Lieber, Professor of Government and International Affairs at Georgetown University

Brent Goff“Now, the polls reveal leavers suffering from a bad case of buyer’s, or leaver’s remorse. The first public comment Boris Johnson, master of the leave camp, uttered was:  “This does not mean we are leaving Europe.” That is not how Scotland and Northern Ireland are interpreting the result. In fact, their leaders see the Brexit as the genesis of a renewed independent movement. They may be joined by an exodus of under-40 English citizens who overwhelmingly voted to stay in the EU.  The United Kingdom could soon cease to exist. Great Britain could become Little Britain. And the populists & far-right trouble-makers across Europe may enjoy a political reawakening on a scale unseen since the 1930s.”
-Brent Goff (MAGES’99), Chief News Anchor, DW News, Berlin Anchor & Co-Editor of “The Day with Brent Goff”

“As opposed to England and Wales, the majority of the population in Scotland – 62% – voted to remain in the EU. The leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, has very forthrightly stated that she is unhappy about the result and does not think that it reflects the will of the Scottish people. In some way, we’ll see the Scots try to reject this decision. It’s possible that, less than two years after its failed referendum on independence, we will see another independence referendum in Scotland in the next couple of years.”
-Emily Buss (MAGES’13) is a Program Assistant in the Wilson Center’s Global Europe Program.

“Scottish MPs have been standing up and talking about Scotland as a “European country.” They were able to finesse that question of “is it Europe or is it your national identity” into the idea that Scotland is part of Europe, and that’s its national identity. I think there are ways in which you can imagine constructing what Europe is, and how nationalism fits into Europe. … If they aren’t able to stay within the European Union, there’s no doubt in my mind that Scotland, and potentially Northern Ireland, will go.”
-Dr. Kathleen McNamara, Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Read more from her conversation with Georgetown College on Brexit, including commentary from Professors Abraham Newman and Jeffrey Anderson. 

Business and Global Trade


-Dr. Abraham Newman is associate professor international politics at Georgetown University.

Prato“UK will have to renegotiate every single agreement with the EU from an arguably weaker position. They will also have to start negotiating trade agreements with the rest of the world. This will probably result in relocation of manufacturing from the UK to the rest of the EU. UK firms will also likely experience reduced access to capital. Moreover, with about 15% of their staff and research funding coming from the EU, UK research universities will need to find new ways to sustain their cutting edge infrastructure.”
-Dr. Carlo Prato, Assistant Professor of Economics at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

“The decision to leave presents the UK with an unprecedented challenge as all existing trade agreements between the EU and third countries will cease to apply for the UK. Consequently, the UK will have to re-negotiate 54 bilateral trade agreements, a task for which the country is poorly prepared as trade deals have for decades been negotiated by the European Commission on behalf of all EU members. It is also likely that the UK will have more difficulties obtaining advantageous trade deals with third countries on its own. For instance, the US has already declared that they would prioritize closing a deal with the EU before even starting talks with the UK.”
-Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (MSFS’94) is the Vice President of the European Parliament.

International Institutions

Not only the EU but also Europe and the West are living through a historical moment. The EU and its institutions are going to be profoundly challenged. With new dynamics of power, we will, finally, see a two speed Europe with two categories of countries: those highly integrated and others left on the peripheral.”
-Shéhérazade Semsar-de Boisséson (SFS’90, MSFS’90) is Managing Director of POLITICO’s European operation, a joint venture between POLITICO and Axel Springer.

“The EU will only work if all its citizens can imagine themselves part of a cosmopolitan, thriving democratic polity, one that balances local, national, and EU powers and creates economic opportunity. Listening to those on both sides of the cultural divide, and working to ease the economic inequality that underlies the division between the hopeful and the excluded, is the only way forward for the EU—and the rest of us.”
-Dr. Kathleen McNamara, Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Read more of her analysis in her Foreign Affairs article, “Brexit’s False Democracy: What the Vote Really Revealed.”

“We can’t really tell what the exact deal will look like or even if a Brexit will truly happen. But this is properly about renegotiating the terms of the liberal order as they apply to the U.K., not about leaving it. No one is challenging the ideas of free movement of goods, capital and services. Nor is anyone suggesting that Britain should stop being a democracy or stop cooperating with other democracies.”
Dr. Erik Voeten is the Peter F. Krogh Professor of Geopolitics and Justice in World Affairs at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service and the Department of Government. Read more of his analysis in his Washington Post column, “No, Brexit is not the end of the liberal world order.”

Impact for United States

Robert Lieber“This is a very British event, but possible implications for the US include reaction against over-regulation and political correctness, plus an anti-establishment and anti-elite mood.”
-Dr. Robert J. Lieber, Professor of Government and International Affairs at Georgetown University

“The geographic inequality resulting from the uneven economic recovery is clearly leading to an increase in populist sentiment on both sides of the Atlantic. Our research at EIG shows that over 50 million Americans live in economically distressed communities and that growth of new businesses, and the accompanying good paying jobs, are increasingly concentrated in only a handful of cities. Until policymakers confront this reality and work to close this access to opportunity gap — both in America and in Europe — challenges like the Brexit will increasingly become a bigger part of our shared geopolitical reality.”
-Steve Glickman, Adjunct Assistant Professor at Georgetown University and Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Economic Innovation Group (EIG)

“You have electorates similarly confused about the issues [in the United States and the U.K.], but elites that responded extremely differently. In the UK, there was a cynical but effective and eloquent campaign to leave, while on the other side it was akin to watching someone fighting with one hand tied behind their back. That’s not the case here — Trump is skilled in some ways, but he’s also his own worst enemy. Boris Johnson was not. And on the other side you’ve got Clinton, with an incredibly sophisticated machine, who’s able to make both economic and identity-based arguments.”
-Dr. Jeffrey Anderson is the Graf Goltz Professor and Director of the BMW Center for German and European Studies in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Read more from his conversation with Georgetown College on Brexit, including commentary from Professors Abraham Newman and Kathleen McNamara.