You don’t have to be a euro-fanatic or an Empire loyalist to recognise that Britain’s referendum on June 23rd will have a profound impact. It will set the course of British politics and the direction of our country for decades to come.
Whatever the outcome, there will be plenty of drama. But while the effects of a Remain vote will be largely political and parochial, the impact of a Leave vote will be profound and material.
If we vote to stay in, the political fallout will be fascinating. But the cost will be measured in the career fortunes of top Tories – the ramifications felt in reshuffle, reconciliation or revenge. The rest of the world will breathe a sigh of relief. The markets will settle. Europe’s eyes will return to Syria and Greece. Cameron will go on. Boris will plot on. Life will go on.
If we vote Leave, the consequences will be far greater. We could face immediate and simultaneous crises – in the currency and stock markets, in the wider economy, in international as well as domestic politics.
Huge questions, which have been highlighted but never properly answered during the campaign, will need to be resolved. What will the timeline and process of the Brexit negotiations be? What happens in the interim? What is the destination we will seek? What kind of trading arrangements will replace today’s? What will happen to decades of accumulated EU laws on the UK statute book? What approach will our former partners take? What space will be left for other domestic political priorities?
All of these issues and more can be summarised in the title of this collection of essays:
“Britain Votes Leave: What Happens Next?”
The questions to which every business, every university, every farmer, indeed every family will need answers are both complex and critical. In an attempt to start answering them, we have brought together an unrivalled group of experts, led by Portland’s own EU adviser Sir Stephen Wall.
Our contributors cannot answer all the unknowns, but they do provide the best possible insight into the choices Britain will face and the most likely courses of action.
First, Justice Secretary and leading Vote Leave advocate Michael Gove throws down a gauntlet, explaining how he believes Brexit negotiations could be conducted calmly and without crisis. In his vision, David Cameron would stay in office to oversee a process of evolution, not revolution.
“Every country has its own model – and so would Britain” Michael Gove
Stephen Wall – Britain’s former Ambassador to the EU, who played a key role negotiating five EU treaties in his career as a diplomat – gives a less rosy view of Life in the Exit Lane: how Britain would we go about the process of unpicking its relationship with the bloc, and strike a deal with 27 spurned neighbours.
Next Sir Andrew Cahn – a Whitehall and EU veteran with decades of Civil Service experience – examines the Home Front. How would the British political system and Civil Service manage the enormous challenge of maintaining the business of government and attempting to safeguard national interests while a Brexit looms?
Trade undoubtedly being the biggest issue for British business, David Frost – a former ambassador who not only led the FCO’s EU Directorate but also oversaw EU trade issues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – addresses the daunting task which his successors would face.
With the impact on the City of London being another vital issue for the UK economy, Graham Bishop, renowned for his mastery of the technical details of the EU financial system, examines the issues facing the financial services industry.
Our second pro-Leave contribution comes from Defra Minister (and former Portland consultant) George Eustice. He makes the case that a Brexit would unleash the full talent and potential of Britain’s Civil Service to devise new policies, negotiate new treaties and follow new priorities, once released from the need to shadow the Brussels bureaucracy.
“Leaving the EU is not a legacy David Cameron wants, but it’s not a bad legacy to have” George Eustice
Finally, Pierre de Boissieu was formerly France’s Ambassador to the EU and served as Secretary-General of The European Council. Nobody is better placed to give a view from the continent about how the other member states would react to a British exit decision. His Letter to the British is clear about how much the rest of Europe would prefer Britain to stay – but also sets out in clear terms what their posture will be if we Vote Leave.
There are few certainties in any of this, but whatever happens, David Cameron will most likely attend the European Council in Brussels on 28th June. He may be fresh from an historic victory, or he may be a dead man walking. Even if – despite the support of Michael Gove and George Eustice – he has resigned as Tory leader ahead of the summit, he will probably continue as Prime Minister in the short term. His party would need some time to decide which brand of Brexiteer should lead them in the period to come.
So even defeat and defenestration won’t spare him a final trial in Brussels’ soul-destroying Justus Lipsius building. The charmless seat of the European Council – well known to all of our contributors – has seen many sleepless nights of bitter wrangling over the years. If Britain votes to leave the EU, past battles over the rebate, CAP reform and enlargement will seem trivial compared to what lies ahead for Britain’s negotiators.
If it comes to it, perhaps this publication will be of some help to them.
Steve Morris is Portland’s Managing Partner. In a previous life, he was an EU adviser to Tony Blair in Downing Street and a spokesman for the European Commission in Brussels.