Brexit: where next?

Tuesday, 28th June 2016 6:45 to 8:30 pm (BST) London, United Kingdom

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Event Summary

Open Europe and the Institute of Directors (IoD) hosted a panel debate in central London to analyse the outcome of the UK’s EU referendum and discuss the possible next steps. The event was chaired by Maria Borelius, a member of Open Europe’s Advisory Council. James Sproule, Chief Economist of the IoD, gave the introductory remarks.

Joe Twyman, Head of Political and Social Research for Europe, Middle East and Africa at YouGov, said the referendum was “possibly the most important event [for the UK] since the end of World War II”, and had shown to what extent the UK was “a country divided” on the Europe issue – not just among its nations, as Scotland and Northern Ireland backed Remain while England and Wales voted Leave, but also “within communities and even families.” He said the Leave camp “was able to mobilise a large number of people who are dissatisfied with the EU, but not just with the EU”, while the Remain campaign was less successful because “supporters of the status quo were not as interested and engaged.”

Allie Renison, Head of Europe and Trade Policy at the IoD, said there was “a real split” among the business community over the referendum question. She noted that “in retrospect, what was underplayed [during the campaign] is the short-term economic impact of Brexit”, adding that the impact of the devalued pound is felt more quickly in the form of higher import costs than cheaper exports. However, she stressed that “business is resilient. They don’t like uncertainty, but are prepared to deal with it…Business doesn’t have time for recrimination. They need to get on with whatever they’re doing.”

Open Europe co-Director Raoul Ruparel said he believes “Brexit will happen. It would be politically very hard for the next UK Government to ignore the result of the referendum…Reversing the result would also exacerbate the divide within the country.” In terms of what future relationship the UK may want to seek with the EU, Raoul argued that “there may not be a democratic mandate to pursue the Norwegian option” – notably as the latter would entail continued free movement of people. He said it should be possible for the UK to seek “a more bespoke model”, but stressed that “there is always a trade-off between single market access and control – be it over the rules or over immigration.”

David Frost, CEO of the Scotch Whisky Association who was speaking in a personal capacity, said that “we need a period of calm…Everybody should just stop flapping. The country is no more ungoverned than during a general election campaign.” He said he would be in favour of the ‘Norway model’ for future UK-EU relations, because “it is the best on merit and relatively easy to do…it already exists so it can hardly be denied to us…and it preserves single market access for services.” He added, “Having seen the amazing complexity of trade negotiations…I really doubt [the UK’s] ability to negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU” in the two-year period envisaged by the EU Treaties. He concluded by saying that the UK should “behave as if we already had our own trade policy, because we will have one soon. Let’s do as if this shift had already happened.”

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