Commentary: European Policy Centre: Soft or hard Brexit? 15/07/2016

Professor Whitman has published a commentary piece for the European Policy Centre on negotiating the UK’s departure from the EU. The full piece is available here.


The EU is in uncharted waters when it comes to negotiating the UK’s exit from the Union. Creative and flexible thinking will be required from all parties if an orderly departure is to be managed. The alternative is a fractious, mutually damaging and disorderly Brexit. This commentary argues for a short-term, time-limited agreement to stabilise the EU-UK relationship and to allow breathing space to develop the terms of a long-term strategic partnership.

At present much attention has been given to the modalities and timetable for invoking Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. There is no certainty as to when the UK government will invoke the article; nor is there an accompanying ‘user guide’ on how to realise an orderly disentangling of a member state from the EU. The UK’s current political turmoil hampers the chances for an orderly exit.

What the country needs, but what seems to be currently impossible, is to rapidly establish cross-political party agreement on what form of future relationship it wants to have with the EU. The post-Referendum leadership hiatus in the UK has worked against this imperative, and the ‘dis-United Kingdom’ further complicates and threatens a consensus. The Scottish National Party, Gibraltese, and Northern Ireland politicians have all made clear their desire to preserve a place for their territories within the EU. As things stand now, a serious cross-party debate on the UK’s desired relationship with the EU will not start until, after the leadership of the Labour Party has been (re)confirmed and can debate with the UK’s new Prime Minister Theresa May.