Anand Menon is Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at Kings College London. He also directs the UK in a Changing Europe project. His areas of research interest include the policies and institutions of the European Union, European security, and British politics.
He contributes regularly to both print and broadcast media. He is co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of the European Union (OUP, 2012), and co-author of Brexit and British Politics (Polity 2018). He is a trustee of Full Fact, a member of the Strategic Council of the European Policy Centre, a Council member of the European Council on Foreign Relations and an associate fellow of Chatham House.
Paul A Brown : How does the political establishment, particularly the Conservative and Labour parties, come to realise that eventually the future of the UK must be inescapably linked to the EU?
Both parties clearly think that already, though I’m not sure they would phrase it as ‘inescapably linked’, not least as the purpose of Brexit was, in part, to give us a choice about the nature of that relationship. There is no suggestion that the EU can be ignored or that the UK could or should not work with it. Whether that means significantly closer relations than we already have is another question entirely. My sense is that there is little prospect of significantly closer relations under the Tories. Indeed, even steps we expected the Government to take following the negotiation of the Windsor Framework, such as a bid to re-enter the Horizon research project, seem to have stalled as negotiation over finance proves tougher than anticipated. Labour has promised to negotiate SPS and veterinary agreements with the EU, as well as a new security treaty. While these will bring some benefits in specific areas, they will not really impact on the aggregate economic impacts of Brexit which stem largely from non-membership of the single market. In terms of that, Labour have explicitly ruled out single market membership, and it is difficult to envisage this pledge being revisited, at least during the first term of a Labour government.
Steven Wilson : Of all the controversial Bills that have been brought forward by the government in recent months, which do you believe is the most dangerous/damaging, and how difficult will it be for the incoming government to undo that damage?
Interesting! I think the different Bills (Internal Market, Northern Ireland Protocol and Retained EU Law) have been damaging in different ways. The first two in terms of diplomatic relations with the EU and the external reputation of the UK as a country that abides by international law. Personally, I think the lattermost is potentially the most damaging. Both in terms of the potential to disrupt UK-EU relations (sunsetting EU rules has implications for the Level Playing Field agreement negotiated as part of the TCA, and large-scale divergence will impact on UK-EU trade) and, perhaps more importantly, for businesses, which will face enormous regulatory uncertainty, not least as it is far from clear that all EU rules covered by the Bill have yet been identified. At the moment, it looks like the Bill will not make it to the statute book in its current form, much as the offending sections of the Internal Market Bill were eventually removed and the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill was eventually withdrawn. All of which speaks to a broader point about Brexit, which is that so much of the politics has been performative – signalling to Brexit supporters rather than actually putting new legal frameworks in place.
Valerie Chaplin : With Starmer ignoring calls for PR and to Rejoin the EU, could he fail at the next GE?
I’m not convinced that not adopting PR or a rejoin position will damage Starmer going into the coming election. I tend to think, not least as long as the Lib Dems have not adopted rejoin, that his Brexit position is probably electorally sensible (PR will not be an issue, I think). I think Labour will want the focus to be on issues other than Brexit, which I think is probably the right approach for them. It’s certainly possible that Labour will not win the election, certainly in terms of forming a majority government, though this still seems the most likely outcome at the moment. There is a long time to go, and a lot can happen. A lot will, of course, hinge on the state of the economy at the time of the next election. My sense is that Labour will not embrace PR even if they do win – the problem being that parties that win under FPTP are unwilling to consider changing it.
Michael Soffe : For those of us who feel politically homeless at the moment, do you foresee a full-on, mainstream, Rejoin party being created in the future (besides Rejoin and Volt)?
I am very sceptical of talk about new parties, given the enormous disincentives provided by our electoral system. I think the key initial development when it comes to rejoin might be if and when the Lib Dems adopt it as a position. This could spark a debate. However, the problem is that Brexit is declining in salience among the public as a whole at the moment. So I’m not offering you much in the way of hope in the short-term, I’m afraid! There are some people who think that Labour’s position on Brexit may shift if they gain power. This will not be to a ‘rejoin’ stance, but, it is argued, may involve a far closer relationship than Starmer is willing to discuss at the moment. This may be true, but a lot will hinge on the outcome of the next election. A significant Labour majority will give Starmer more room for manoeuvre (and more certainty of having two terms to do what he wants to do) than a narrow one, or even being head of a minority government.
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Helen Johnston : You recently argued that the fire seems to have gone from many Brexiter bellies, and that the British public has lost interest in Brexit (Guardian 1 March). Is that a problem or an opportunity for the Rejoin movement?
I don’t think the former really affects the Rejoin movement, while the latter is probably a problem. To explain. The ERG no longer seems to be the power it once was, and many of its members have gone on to focus on other issues – net zero, China, economic policy etc. This makes it easier for Sunak to be pragmatic (cf Windsor Framework) but I don’t think has much at all to do with the prospects for Rejoin (which, to put my cards on the table, I think are slim). Simply put, I don’t think the initial steps in this direction, were they to come, would be under a Tory Government. I think the falling salience of Brexit is an issue in that, if this remains the case, it will be harder for any Government to justify spending time on an issue the public have little interest in. I think a crucial issue will be the degree to which the debate about the impact of Brexit on the economy continues once we are out of the current cost of living crisis. Given the pressures people currently face, it is easy to see why a lot more is being said about these impacts (albeit I think some people are guilty of exaggerating the degree to which Brexit is responsible for, or contributing to, the current situation). Should the relationship between Brexit and the economy continue to be a live issue, then at least the conversation will continue, though the problem is there aren’t really any incremental solutions – the main costs of Brexit in economic terms are caused by not being in the single market. However, this is precisely what allows for what are seen by some as the main benefits of Brexit (ending freedom of movement, making our own laws etc). There is a certain dishonesty in the Labour position of arguing that small changes (SPS agreement etc) will make a significant economic impact.
Sue Scarrott : Do you believe the Windsor Framework will be instrumental in significantly improving future relations and closer ties with the EU?
Yes, but to limited immediate practical effect. As we saw from the Anglo-French summit that took place soon after the unveiling of the Windsor Framework, the agreement opens the door for warmer diplomatic relations between the UK, EU and member states. That being said, it would seem that negotiations on UK participation in the Horizon research programme – which I among others had thought would be one of the first fruits of a solution to the stand-off over the NI Protocol – have floundered. Nor is this Government anxious to negotiate any other formal agreements with the EU that go beyond the TCA. So, in the short term, I think we can expect to see lots of warm diplomatic words and friendly meetings, whether in the margins of the coronation, or at the G7 in Japan, or at the 1 June meeting of the European Political Community – but not much else.
Derek Ironside : Do you foresee the UK rejoining, at minimum, the Single Market via whatever means… or have we diverged too much already?
Not in the next decade, to be honest. It’s not really a question of divergence at the moment (though that might change over time or, particularly, if the Retained EU Law Bill comes into law). For me the main hurdle is political. I do not see a first term Labour Government thinking in these terms, and even if a second term Starmer Government changes its mind on this, negotiations will take time. Nor am I convinced that such a change of heart will occur. A lot will hinge on how salient Brexit continues to be, the degree to which the Tories in opposition (if, indeed, they are) continue to talk about it and so on. Labour will not want to give the Tories attack lines for the election after 2024, and accepting freedom of movement may indeed do just this. Much will depend on public opinion on legal immigration, not least as the current high levels of inward migration look set to continue for the foreseeable situation. The state of the economy will also be important. My sense is that recovery from the cost-of-living crisis might make the debate about the economic impact of Brexit less acute than it currently is which, along with the declining salience of Brexit could limit the incentives even for Labour of reopening the debate.
Lisa Burton : UK in a Changing Europe is a genuine academic think tank producing quality research and reports. Do you find it frustrating that so many groups now call themselves think tanks yet only seem to exist to produce conflicting and misguided data?
Ha, thank you! My honest answer to this is that many people, including academics, hate the fact that we have come to call ourselves a think tank. I’ve never, to be honest, googled the definition, but I must confess that I think we are the interlopers here rather than other, genuine think tanks. What makes us different is partly, as you say, that we tend to publish work by academics based on research. In that sense, I’ve always thought UKICE was not about Brexit per se but about convincing people – whether politicians, civil servants, or the public – that social scientists are worth listening to. The other thing is that think tanks generally are about making policy proposals and trying to get Government to adopt them. We are explicitly not allowed to do that. We can’t say ‘should’, in other words, but have to show what ‘is’ and let others make up their own minds what to do about it. It is written into the terms of our funding that we have to remain absolutely impartial. So I’m not sure we’re really a think tank, but one thing we do try to do is to question the veracity of what real think tanks say when this is in doubt. Our aim, I suppose, is to position ourselves such that people like you come to us for facts and evidence and, armed with them, can make their minds up about proposals made by ‘proper’ think tanks. I hope that helps!
Prof. Juliet Lodge
Prof. Juliet Lodge has been a professor of EU politics at several universities in UK, NZ and EU. In the 1990s, Juliet was named ‘European woman of Europe‘ for her voluntary work. She has authored many books about the EU and is a regular contributor for Yorkshire Bylines. Juliet also co-convened the anti-Brexit group Women4europe. She is currently working on EU Horizon projects on disinformation where she leads work on ethics and AI. If you wish to submit a question for consideration, please email it to us firstname.lastname@example.org