LSE Brexit asked some of our academics to predict what kind of Brexit we can expect in 2020.
On being asked to “make a brief prediction about the course of Brexit in 2020”, I was reminded of a remark by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein:
“If we think of the world’s future, we always mean the place it will get to if it keeps going as we see it going now and it doesn’t occur to us that it is not going in a straight line but in a curve and that its direction is constantly changing.”
My brief prediction is that the heading of Brexit in 2020 will have just this shape: its direction will be constantly changing. This is partly because that is how it always is, but partly too because the Prime Minister Boris Johnson does not mind constantly changing direction if doing so suits him. Or rather, what suits him is not being wedded or welded to any particular direction. It would not surprise me if the new government managed to conclude a “trade deal” by the December 2020 deadline, even if that means that the UK is or remains for some time in an appropriately renamed and lightly customised customs union with the EU.
Simon Glendinning is Head of the European Institute and Professor in European Philosophy at LSE.
The UK will cease being an EU member on 31 January. An agreement to cover the long-term relationship will be concluded before the end of the year – the option to extend the negotiations period will not be triggered in June – but this will be a ‘thin’ agreement, covering only the more basic and less contentious aspects. While it will provide for free trade in goods, it will not cover many other important areas. The UK and the EU will agree to continue negotiating on these items and to conclude a supplementary agreement as soon as feasible. The latter will be held over and prove complex as they involve sensitivities of a ‘level playing field’ arrangement, avoiding the UK gaining a sharp competitive advantage from a divergence on labour, consumer and environmental regulations. Johnson will claim that he has fulfilled his election promises, he will not have to test the unity of his party, and voters will not be too concerned about the remaining items as they will seem somewhat opaque. Thereafter, a debate will be promoted by the opposition parties on trying to obtain a closer, softer arrangement with the EU, but the EU will not give a clear response in this period.
Kevin Featherstone is Eleftherios Venizelos Professor in Contemporary Greek Studies and Professor in European Politics, LSE.
The course of this year’s Brexit negotiations will likely pass unnoticed over the heads of many of the voters who backed the Conservatives under Johnson for the first time in the 2019 general election. They may hope that the new Tory MPs elected in the Midlands and north of England will be able to defend their interests. Yet they are very unlikely to do so, since they are newbies within Tory power hierarchy, must learn their way around the Commons, and are themselves pretty right wing in their ideologies. Expect a ‘hard’ Brexit to go through, then, one that does manufacturing industry no favours, leads to workers’ rights being eroded, and depresses investment levels in ‘peripheral’ regions far from the south east. ‘Left behind’ communities are likely to discover that their fortunes matter less to a Tory government now than they did within the EU.
Patrick Dunleavy is Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, LSE.
The post-election Parliamentary arithmetic points to a fairly hard Brexit, leading to multiple losses: to employment rights in other countries, to personal rights, and to diminished prospects for business start-ups in the UK. These effects, however, will not start to bite seriously until the transition period is over, hence after 2020. But one effect – a decline in job prospects generally – has already started. There are two drivers. First, the loss of free movement of goods, services and capital after the end of the transition period will reduce trade with Europe, and has already depressed domestic investment. The effects of slower growth on jobs may be masked by events in the global economy, e.g. a US-China trade deal, but is real in that growth would be faster without Brexit. A second effect is lower inward investment. Firms like BMW, Honda and Nissan have already started to relocate plants to mainland Europe. Global events do little to shield localities from such losses, to which the old industrial regions are most exposed. Both directions of travel are firm predictions but – as with predictions of slower growth after the 2016 referendum – what is less firm is the exact timing.
Nicholas Barr is Professor of Public Economics, LSE.
The year will be marked by rising concern over the inadequacy of an incomplete trade deal designed to favour the Europeans. Eventually the Prime Minister will present his surrender on this as a great negotiating triumph, and this will be echoed in the newspapers and among the public most of whom will not be able to bear facing up to the reality of Britain’s weakness. Meanwhile there will be rising concerns about the UK’s failure properly to implement the Withdrawal Agreement, especially on Northern Ireland. The limitations of the country’s capacity will have been laid bare to all whose work leads them to see it first-hand. Eventually it will be muddled through but many details will yet to have been agreed.
Conor Gearty is Professor of Human Rights Law at LSE.
N Piers Ludlow
Johnson’s government will make every effort to anaesthetise the Brexit issue as much as possible in 2020, hoping to demonstrate that it has delivered on its promise to get Brexit done. The reality of course is that crucial trade talks will continue for most of the year at least – with further follow-on talks likely in subsequent years too, given the impossibility of concluding any sort of far-reaching trade deal before the December 2020 end of the transition period. But the government will presumably hope that a combination of the UK actually having left the EU and the sheer technicality of much of what will be under discussion in Brussels will ensure that the issue attracts much less public attention than has been the case for the last three years. It will therefore be up to the opposition parties, plus perhaps the business sector and other interested parties (including universities), to highlight the inevitable trade-offs and concessions that are likely to be made in the trade talks, and the importance of the multiple vital issues that still remain to be settled. Whether their efforts will catch the interest of a general population who are clearly bored with Brexit must be open to some doubt.
N Piers Ludlow is a Professor in the Department of International History, LSE.
Whilst the past three years have been characterised by deep domestic disagreement about Brexit, 2020 will see the UK Parliament largely sidelined and more tension between the UK and the EU. The Withdrawal Agreement Bill should pass smoothly, with parliamentary arithmetic in the Conservatives’ favour, but with minimal scrutiny, with only three days of Parliamentary time allocated for debate. The ensuing negotiations will see the UK take a highly ambitious approach to what can be successfully negotiated and ratified by the end of the year. This, along with the new provision in the WAB that prevents an extension of the transition, will provoke major disagreement between the UK and the EU. Should a bare-bones trade deal be agreed, more tensions may emerge through the complex ratification process, which will see the UK Parliament have a scaled-back role from the previous draft Bill. It is far more likely that no deal will be agreed in time, and so the cliff-edge awaits on 31 December.
Pravar Petkar has completed the LLM from the LSE, specialising in Public Law.
On the question of the UK’s future trade and investment relations with the EU, there is a trade-off between the time it takes to negotiate an agreement and the depth and comprehensiveness of the agreement. If the UK government is determined, as appears to be the case, to complete by the end of 2020 then the agreement will be limited to retaining near tariff-free access and possibly agreeing on the continued recognition in a few selected sectors. This would be CETA minus, in other words less deep than most trade and investment agreements between developed economies. Addressing the more economically and politically important questions posed by managing progressively divergent regulation will take longer. The fact that the UK starts with full regulatory recognition thanks to the Single Market helps, but does not answer the question of how the EU in particular can be satisfied that the UK maintains such levels of regulation. There is also the question of where the UK government will wish to diverge from the existing regulations. This is a trade off between market access and regulatory sovereignty. Finding this balance will not only take longer than one year, it will be a continuous process. That part of Brexit that concerns defining the UK’s relationship with the Single European Market is therefore also a continuous process.
Steve Woolcock is Associate Professor of International Relations, LSE.
Back in 2016, towards the end of the EU referendum campaign, some of us pointed out that only the Conservative party could gain from the result, whichever way the UK voted. The Labour party, we argued, had made itself redundant politically. Three years later this is one Brexit-related prediction that is worth repeating for the year to come. The left’s refusal to accept the referendum result, let alone lead Brexit, has gifted to Johnson not only a large parliamentary majority but also wide room for manoeuvre politically. There is little sign that the most influential tendencies in Labourism will be able to face up to the causes of their failure. This means that if Johnson succeeds in negotiating a deal with the EU that abandons tight limits on state-led regional development, he can outflank the left for a generation. But if he fails to deliver to his new constituency in the North and the Midlands, many working-class voters will not be turning back to Labour.
Peter Ramsay is a Professor of Law, LSE.
Karen E Smith
In 2020, we will start to see how post-Brexit British foreign policy will develop. It is likely that the imperative of reaching trade agreements will condition British foreign policy choices, in ways that could dismay proponents of ‘ethical foreign policy’.
Karen E Smith is a Professor of International Relations and Head of the Department of International Relations, LSE.
Anne Corbett & Claire Gordon
The higher education sector had been expecting 2020 to be a sad, if not bad, year with an end to the post-Brexit transition period. Now, with Johnson’s assumption of the premiership, 2020 takes on a darker hue. The unpredicted combination of Brexit and the Johnson accession to power will make 2020 a turning point for a sector already beset by funding pressures and new regulatory demands. It will put on a new plane the already observable trend of fragmentation between research-intensive and teaching-intensive universities. At the same time, STEM subjects will be increasingly favoured; humanities and social sciences downgraded more. This may deliver for the STEM-strong universities, many of which fall into ‘the world leading’ category. But epistemically it will come at the cost of what still unites the sector.
Ever since 2016, our EPO team questioned the then dominant narrative that Brexit would be about “rational” remainers vs “emotional” leavers. We have always claimed that both camps are both rational and emotional at the same time and also that the great divide that we have witnessed so vividly in recent years is not really about Brexit per se or the country’s membership of (or relationship with) the EU but rather about two vastly contrasted and incompatible conceptions of what British society and Britishness are and should be. In that sense, I predict that whatever happens with Brexit and the negotiations with the EU, the hostility between British citizens based on how they vote and what they believe in will continue to worsen in 2020.
Michael Bruter is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Electoral Psychology Observatory, LSE Department of Government.
Over the last year, citizens’ levels of frustration towards their democratic systems have continued to increase. Whilst how much citizens care about their democracy is positive for democratic systems, it is also a prerequisite for frustration and often acts as an aggravating factor for democratically frustrated citizens. The surveys conducted by the Electoral Psychology Observatory at the LSE have shown that British citizens are both emotional about the country’s politics and disappointed by what the system delivers, so I predict that in 2020, the democratic frustration of British citizens will further deepen rather than recede.
Sarah Harrison is Assistant Professorial Research Fellow in Political Science in the Department of Government at the LSE, and Deputy Director of the Electoral Psychology Observatory.
Everything has changed AND nothing has changed. On matters of process and in Parliament we will see clear and decisive action – which is probably what the majority of voters most wanted. The Withdrawal Bill will pass decisively and we will start to leave on the 31st. But that still leaves open the unresolved decision about what a post EU Britain will be. Johnson is not an ‘ideological’ Brexiteer, so not much can be inferred from his past statements. The new cabinet in February will give a clearer sign of the direction of policy. If Dominic Raab stays in a senior post and if Michael Gove is Chancellor or Foreign Secretary, then we will see a greater divergence than if Sajid Javid or Matt Hancock or Jeremy Hunt take senior positions. Given the 31st will have passed, it is possible Johnson can ignore his hard Brexit colleagues. That said, never underestimate the power of hubris and the desire to leave a legacy. I am therefore inclined to think we will follow a Gove-inspired dealignment as part of a general unravelling of the Blair-Brown legacy of constitutional liberalism, multilateralism and redistribution by stealth. This constitutional reordering and continuation of welfare austerity suggests a new direction in UK politics away from the EU model. Thus even if Johnson is successful in securing an FTA by the autumn, it will be a bare bones agreement pretty close to WTO terms. That is what I suspect the government will want and what the EU will be happy to concede. It is also deliverable by January 2021.
Paul Kelly is Professor of Political Philosophy, Department of Government, LSE.