The BREXIT deal – out of the frying pan and into the fire

March 11, 2016

Read the 2nd TransCrisis blog post by Nick Sitter, CPS research affiliate and SPP professor

The deal that UK Prime Minister David Cameron and his EU counterparts hammered out on Friday February 19th was an important step in defusing the crisis over the UK’s potential exit from the European Union, but it paved the way for more – and more serious – crises than it actually resolved.

In the short term, Cameron’s gamble paid off. The deal he secured was longer on symbolism than on substance, but it gave him just about enough to justify campaigning for the “Remain” option in the much-vaunted referendum, now set for Thursday June 23rd.

In contrast to many of the other crises the EU has been through lately, the crisis thus (at least, temporarily) averted was eminently solvable. The Prime Minister had indicated that without a deal, he would not campaign for the UK to remain in the EU. As resolving the crisis was far more important to all the participants than any of the substantial policy issues at hand, the outcome surprised no one. But potential crises now loom for the Conservative Party, the UK and the EU as a whole.

Until February 19th, the BREXIT debacle had primarily been a matter of party management. Cameron took on the risk of a referendum in order to appease the party’s Euro-sceptic wing, and defuse the threat of the UK Independent Party. But party management by referendum is a risky business. In 1975, Labour presided over a referendum that kept the UK in the then EEC. It then spent the two decades out of office. In 1972 (and again in 1994) its Norwegian sister party divided badly over similar votes, which kept the party more or less intact – but the country out of the EU.

On June 23rd, the ideal result for the UK’s ruling party would presumably be a resounding “remain” vote that killed off the question for a decade or two. This, however, is highly unlikely. Instead, Cameron’s gamble might well precipitate other crises, whatever the outcome of the referendum.

Full article available at the TransCrisis blog.