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The Case Which Ceases to Exist: Brexit
All eyes are set on London as the October deadline for a Brexit deal grows near. The new British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has made it clear that he has no intentions for Britain to stay in the European Union. As a result, Britain is moving forward in their Brexit agenda. The current Brexit agreement consists of a Northern Ireland backstop which would inhibit Britain’s ability to create new deals with countries outside the EU. The EU is essentially pushing for Britain to stay in the customs union while Britain is pursuing the complete opposite. The two entities are thus caught in a position where neither side is backing down. If unable to reach an agreement, Britain will face the choice of leaving without a deal, seeking more time, or canceling Brexit altogether. In this paper, I will argue that the case of Brexit is important to international relations theory since the repercussions of a no-deal Brexit will affect relations between Britain and other European states. I will build my argument by first analyzing Brexit through a liberal lens and outline how potential threats to trade challenge key ideas in liberalism. Further, I will also analyze Brexit from a constructivist perspective and show how Britain’s desire to leave the European Union is being motivated by the interests of powerful groups. Lastly, I will combine both my findings and propose solutions for Brexit from both a liberal and constructivist perspective.
The case of Brexit is important when discussing international relations theory since the repercussions of a no-deal Brexit span far wider than Britain’s own borders. It is predicted that other states within the European Union will also experience financial impacts as a result of a no-deal scenario. As the deadline grows closer, Britain’s Prime Minister will have to either propose a new transition agreement or agree to the one brought forth by the European Union which includes the Northern Ireland backstop. The Northern Ireland backstop, which is commonly referred to as just backstop, is a feature in the EU’s proposed Brexit transition plan which would require Britain to stay in the European customs union. The customs union essentially ensures that all European states receive goods from countries outside the EU at a fixed price. In the past, involvement in the customs union has allowed for British goods to flow to and from other European states with limited border checks. This made the sharing of goods among European states incredibly efficient. On the other hand, the customs union prohibits the creation of new trade deals to form between European states and other countries. The case of no deal Brexit emerges here since Britain is pursuing a transition agreement which would remove them from the customs union. If unable to reach a solution, the flow rate of cargos carrying British goods is expected to decrease roughly 40-60% in the first day. As a result, goods and resources across most European states will be disrupted.
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In recent months, Britain released a document titled Operation Yellowhammer which considers a worst case scenario of a no-deal Brexit. The document, which was written by economist and business experts, predicts various economic setbacks to the British economy if a no-deal scenario were to prevail. If unable to reach an agreement, Britain is expected to experience an economic slowdown to both trade as well as travel. As a result, prices of resources such as food, medicine, and electricity are all expected to increase for up to 3 months. Further, number 17 of the document’s key planning assumptions section states that “low income groups will be disproportionally be affected by any price rises in food and fuel.” Although Operation Yellowhammer is a worst case scenario, the deadline for Brexit is inescapably drawing near and the British parliament has yet to propose a deal which resolves the backstop conflict. Liberalism argues that the most effective way for an economy to function is for it to be largely market driven rather than at whim of bureaucratic regulation / decisions. The current Brexit situation challenges this fundamental aspect of liberalism. Instead of pursuing a solution which prioritizes economic exchange between countries, Britain is advocating to leave the customs union which will inevitably cause trade disruptions between itself and other EU states. If a no deal Brexit were to occur, it is predicted that the flow of heavy goods vehicles between Britain and the rest of Europe will decrease significantly from its current levels. As a result, European livelihoods run the risk of being disrupted due to constrains in food and medicine. In regard to medicine, the document also outlines how any disruption to medicine would reduce a state’s ability to prevent and control disease outbreaks. Liberalism would therefore encourage the two entities to resolve the backstop disagreement in order to protect economic welfare as well as the lives of its citizens.
Moving forward in my analysis, I will now consider Brexit from a constructivist perspective and outline how the recent public referendum to leave the EU shifted the interest of powerful groups and developed a new norm for state actors to conduct themselves under. Although joining the European Union in 1973, Britain has held multiple referendums to decide whether or not to stay in the EU. For example, in June of 2016 a referendum was held where the British public voted in favor of the Leave campaign 51.6% to 48.1%. In hopes of increasing her authority in the house of commons for Brexit, former Prime Minister May held a snap election where she consequently lost her parliamentary majority. As a result of similar events, former Prime Minister May was forced to resign and the incumbent party appointed Boris Johnson to lead them in their fight for Brexit. Constructivists argue that all although individuals interpret events and global conditions according to their own beliefs and goals, individuals should always act in line with the interests and goals of powerful groups within a state. Theresa May’s resignation is reflective of what happens to an individual who acts outside of these conditions. Therefore it is to no surprise that new Prime Minister Johnson has taken such a bold stance in favor of Brexit. I argue that the June 2016 referendum not only encouraged the idea to leave the EU further but created a new norm for which individuals in parliament to act. Powerful groups like the Conservative Party have stated that they will not accept a transition agreement which includes border agreements with neighboring states regarding trade. Prime Minister Johnson is therefore not a means to a problem but an ends. Parliament is aware that the British population is torn on Brexit and is exercising their societal power to fix it.
The case of Brexit did not form overnight. Since joining the European Union in in 1973, Britain has held multiple referendums to decide whether or not to stay in the institution. The referendum held in June of 2016 is just the latest example of this. Although constructivism does not provide a liable solution for any case, it does give us an opportunity to understand why Britain is conducting itself in the fashion that it is. Since joining the EU, Britain has struggled greatly in creating new trade deals for its goods. One clear example is the selling of British chocolate in countries such as France, Belgium, Spain and Italy. Until early 2000, British chocolate was banned from these states due to it consisting of vegetable oil rather than cocoa butter. They also argued that British-made-chocolate had far too much milk and should instead be called “household milk chocolate.” This is just one example of how the EU’s customs committee have created difficulties in British trade relations. In 2018 Britain’s gross contribution to the EU amounted to £20 billion. In comparison to other countries, Britain contributes roughly the same amount as the Netherlands and Spain combined. Constructivism argues that in order for individuals to understand the actions taken by a state during a conflict it is crucial for individuals to consider the whole context of the situation.
On the other hand, liberalism argues that countries which are interconnected through economies are less likely to dispute. Therefore, liberalism would encourage Britain and the EU to find a solution which does not affect trade and protects the economic welfare of all European states. Although Operation Yellowhammer outlines the potential risks of a no-deal Brexit, liberalism also argues that if long-term gains outweigh short-term ones. The issue with this suggestion is that the long-term gains of a no-deal Brexit are unknown since no country has never left the EU in such a fashion At the end, the case of Brexit is without a doubt important for international relations. The repercussions of a no-deal Brexit will span far wider than Britain due to the interconnectedness of the world’s major economies.
- “Operation Yellowhammer,” Key planning assumption number 3, UK Government, August 2, 2019, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/831199/20190802_Latest_Yellowhammer_Planning_assumptions_CDL.pdf.Lamy, Steven L., John Scott Masker, John Baylis, Steve Smith, and Patricia Owens.
- Lamy, Steven L., John Scott Masker, John Baylis, Steve Smith, and Patricia Owens. Introduction to Global Politics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.
- “Brexit Timeline: Key Dates in the Saga of the UK’s Exit from the EU.” The Week UK, September 6, 2019. https://www.theweek.co.uk/100284/brexit-timeline-key-dates-in-the-uk-s-break-up-with-the-eu.
- Clark, Daniel. “EU Contributions by Country.” Statista, June 26, 2019. https://www.statista.com/statistics/316691/european-union-eu-budget-share-of-contributions/.
- Pruitt, Sarah. “The History Behind Brexit.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, March 29, 2017. https://www.history.com/news/the-history-behind-brexit.
 “Operation Yellowhammer,” Key planning assumption number 3, UK Government, August 2, 2019, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/831199/20190802_Latest_Yellowhammer_Planning_assumptions_CDL.pdf.
 “Operation Yellowhammer,” Key planning assumption number 3, UK Government, August 2, 2019.
 “Operation Yellowhammer,” Key planning assumption number 7, UK Government, August 2, 2019.
 Steven L. Lamy et all, Introduction to Global Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), 90.
 “Operation Yellowhammer,” Key planning assumption number 3, UK Government, August 2, 2019.
 Lamy et all, Introduction to Global Politics, 90.
 “Brexit Timeline: Key Dates in the Saga of the UK’s Exit from the EU.” The Week UK, September 6, 2019. https://www.theweek.co.uk/100284/brexit-timeline-key-dates-in-the-uk-s-break-up-with-the-eu.
 Lamy et all, Introduction to Global Politics, 21.
Clark, Daniel. “EU Contributions by Country.” Statista, June 26, 2019. https://www.statista.com/statistics/316691/european-union-eu-budget-share-of-contributions/.
 Lamy et all, Introduction to Global Politics, 88.
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