The exit process from Europe was designed specifically to prevent this from happeningby Kenneth Armstrong / June 28, 2019 / Leave a comment
The political deadlock which now afflicts British politics is one of the unintended consequences of the EU referendum held three years ago. Core aspects of the political system—the relationship between politicians and voters, the executive and parliament, and the unitary state and its sub-national components—have been put under immense strain as the repercussions of the vote to leave have reverberated through normal political life.
But as well as these internal domestic difficulties, there is another phenomenon—the “externalities” of Brexit. We all suspect that departure from Europe presents certain challenges beyond UK shores. But the language of “externalities” provides a novel and revealing way of thinking about how we ended up here, how the exit process was meant to work and how it has gone so badly wrong.
Externalities differ from unintended consequences. They may or may not be foreseeable, what counts instead is their effects. Most importantly, externalities produce an effect for others. They are often economic—such as contagion from the eurozone crisis—or environmental—as in the impact of the Chernobyl disaster on neighbouring countries.
A political externality occurs when those who do not participate in a decision-making process are affected by it. Referendums produce democratic externalities when their outcomes affect the lives of those outside the franchise and beyond the territory of the state conducting the plebiscite. In the context of Brexit, an externality is something that affects countries, citizens and businesses without their having had a vote or representation in the 2016 referendum, or the internal political process of implementing the result. These are “Brexternalities.”
That a key function of Article 50, the EU’s exit clause, is the management of externalities appears to have been almost entirely lost in the political debate about Brexit. As has the UK’s grossly irresponsible attempt to export its problems rather than face up to them itself.
It is true, of course, that Article 50 envisages that the choice to leave the Union—or indeed to remain a member—is a voluntary, unilateral choice. This is a point underscored by the December 2018 ruling of the Court of Justice on the UK’s unilateral right to revoke its Article 50 notification. EU law accepts that these choices are left to the member states, acting in accordance with whatever constitutional requirements are demanded by national law.
However, once a state notifies of its intention to leave…