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Brexit - Six Months On

23/12/2016 07:01 | Updated 23 December 2016
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Merry Brexmas. Who'd have thought, six months on, that we'd be as fascinated, if not more so, with Brexit as we were back in June? The newspapers are obsessed with it. Politicians go on endlessly about it. Social media throbs with it. And yet, and yet, virtually nothing of significance has actually happened. This is phony war - in the age of Twitter.

As a result, much is said, but little is known. Assuming the Supreme Court upholds the High Court's ruling on Article 50, what kind of parliamentary bill will the government put forward? Will it be a four liner or a forty pager? We don't know.

What kind of Brexit will the government try to achieve? Will it involve membership of the Custom's Union? Some payments to the EU budget in return for participation in some EU programmes? Conceivably, but we just don't know.

What will our partners be willing to give us when we finally come to negotiate? Are they serious about the inseparability of the 'four freedoms'? Will we be able to use our contribution to European security to leverage concessions? Will it be possible to secure their unanimous agreement to any trade deal? Who knows?

So, there is much room for speculation. That being said, as we try to show in our new report, some clues can be divined from what has happened so far. In the political realm, it is striking that, as little as we know about Brexit itself, its impact has already been enormous, in terms of both the way political positions over Brexit have shifted, and its longer term implications, particularly for the Labour party.

However, there is much more that we will need to know. And this applies all the more to the impact as to process. It is easy to forget, amidst the fevered discussions of the Supreme Court, various shades of Brexit, Article 50 and so on that, ultimately, the importance of our decision to leave the EU will lie in its practical impact on the lives of British people.

And here, the signs are mixed. Certainly, there has been no economic apocalypse. Then again, we haven't left the EU yet. It seems likely that the country will not be in either the single market or the customs union, in which case it is probable the economy's current performance will not be sustainable. The manner in which we do leave will thus impact hugely on the cost-benefit implications of the exercise.

Herein lies the importance of calm, dispassionate analysis. Expect, from the moment the Article 50 process is triggered, to witness the kick off of the mother of all blame games. Brexiters will take credit for any and all positive economic indicators while blaming everything and everyone except Brexit for any signs of a faltering economy. Remainers will argue the opposite.

This is why, in the new year, we intend to publish a short reflection on the kinds of factors we should take into account when starting to assess what the real world impact of Brexit has been upon our country. What indicators will be key? When will we have them? What are the variables, apart from Brexit, that might impact upon them, and how do we control for these? Establishing cause and effect in the social world is never easy, but that does not mean it should not be attempted.

And so, as you switch off your email and settle down to watch some serious telly, reassure yourself. You may be bored of Brexit by now, but - the saga has hardly started.

Professor Anand Menon is director The UK in a Changing Europe

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