Brexit – who’s to blame?

An interesting counterfactual is the Brexit is due to Eric Joyce headbutting a Tory MP in a House of Commons bar, in 2012. As a result of that fracas:

  • His Falkirk seat became available
  • Labour leader Ed Miliband changed the rules to allow Labour members to vote in leadership elections
  • Trolls took advantage of this to nominate Jeremy Corbyn
  • Corbyn refused to campaign for Remain

But Joyce himself points out that these changes in the Labour party would have happened regardless.


(i) Background

1957: Rome Treaty – establishment of 3 “communities”:

Creation of: Customs Union, CAP and a European Social Fund

1973: UK joins the European Community

1975: 67% of British people vote to stay in the European Community (common market) in a referendum

1992: Maastricht Treaty – creation of the EU and the Euro UK avoids monetary integration

1993: Single European Act: The common market (freedom of goods, capital, services and labour) UK avoids Schengen area

2007: Lisbon Treaty (to replace and supersede Rome and Maastricht) – centralisation of political institutions

2016: 52% of British people vote to leave the EU

Interpretation: broad support amongst the British people for the single market and close economic and social ties to a European institution. Less support for membership of a federal “state” and the referendum result reflects the fact that (a) people are concerned of the direction of future travel towards a greater political union (and implied loss of sovereignty); (b) evidence that the EU is becoming an increasingly centralised political enterprise. Issues such as an EU “army”, further expansion, and loss of sovereignty are genuine ones because there is a reasonable concern that this is the direction of travel.

(ii) The decisions

  1. David Cameron makes a referendum on membership of the EU a central part of his 2015 election manifesto – it wasn’t a blunder because it’s an important issue to the Tory party and helped him to win the election
  2. February 2016 Cameron announces a EU reform deal, following negotiations with Donald Tusk (EU Council President) – it wasn’t a blunder because the EU would have had to have granted concessions for other member states
  3. Jeremy Corbyn declines to campaign for Remain during the 2016 referendum – it wasn’t a blunder because he was sticking to his principles
  4. On announcement of the referendum result, David Cameron resigns
  5. June 20th 2016: Boris Johnson withdraws from leadership race – it wasn’t a blunder because he didn’t have the support
  6. New (and unchallenged) PM, Theresa May outlines her vision for Brexit in January 2017 – it wasn’t a blunder because the red lines were reasonable
  7. March 29th 2017: Theresa May triggers Article 50, giving the UK 2 years to leave the EU – it wasn’t a blunder because she had to signal a commitment to delivering Brexit
  8. April 18th 2017: May calls a snap election, allows Nick Timothy to devise the campaign and loses her majority – the election wasn’t a blunder because the polls were in her favour and she needed a mandate. The decision to hire Timothy wasn’t a blunder because he was the best candidate for the job 
  9. June 19th 2017: Negotiations with the EU begin
  10. November 14th 2018: May published the Withdrawal Agreement which has little support among her cabinet but is agreed by the EU – it wasn’t a blunder because it was a deliverable means of ensuring Brexit
  11. January 15th 2019: Parliament rejects May’s deal (and again on March 12th, and March 29th)
  12. May decides to step down, and is replaced by Boris Johnson on 24th July following