News story

Brexit: The views from Queen Mary academics

The United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union is one of the biggest political news stories of our time and Queen Mary’s academic experts have featured regularly in the media.

10 December 2018

10 December 2018

In an opinion piece for The Times, Professor Philip Cowley from Queen Mary's School of Politics and International Relations explores what could happen should Theresa May’s government face defeat in the forthcoming Brexit vote in the House of Commons. He argues that the government could suffer the largest backbench rebellion in modern British politics tomorrow — and the largest Commons defeat for at least a century. 

Theresa May enjoys no majority and has next to no support from across the floor of the House, and so if — as everyone expects — the government is defeated tomorrow, the next useful comparison is the scale of that defeat.

Professor Cowley argues that while governments are occasionally defeated in the Commons, they are rarely heavily defeated. If, as is widely believed, the government is looking at a defeat by more than a hundred votes, that will be something that has only happened three times in the last hundred years.

In another opinion piece, Dr Davor Jancic from Queen Mary's School of Law argues that changes to the EU withdrawal bill represent a mini victory for the UK but one which is fragile due to its uncertain compatibility with EU law.

From February to November 2018, the draft withdrawal agreement saw a number of important changes. One of the most striking ones concerns dispute resolution. Throughout Brexit negotiations, the EU was adamant to maintain the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), while the UK insisted on ending it. The latest version replaces the ECJ with arbitration under the auspices of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

According to Dr Jancic, this is a significant concession by Michel Barnier, and an important diplomatic triumph for Theresa May, who has repeatedly argued that disputes cannot be resolved by the court of either party, and for Boris Johnson, who has vocally advocated the option of arbitration.

3 December 2018

Speaking on the BBC's The Week in Parliament programme, Professor Tim Bale from Queen Mary’s School of Politics and International Relations discussed the upcoming parliamentary vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill. Professor Bale said: "I think its [the vote] is a measure of strength from the various factions in the House of Commons. The eventual result does matter in the sense that it will give us all a clue as to how possible it will be for Theresa May to pass the Withdrawal Bill on the second attempt. I think we are already assuming that this first attempt won't make any difference.  

"For the government it gives her another chance to tell to the country the Withdrawal Bill. After all it will feature in the news headlines every night for five days. If she can make some good arguments, and get her colleagues to make some good arguments for the Withdrawal Bill, perhaps that will help her in what is effectively a long-term war of attrition. It's not about just the run-up to December 11th, it's what happens after that and possibly going into January," he added.

23 November 2018

In an opinion piece written for The Guardian, Tim Bale, Professor of Politics in Queen Mary’s School of Politics and International Relations, asserts that the power of hard-line Brexiteers should not be underestimated.

Professor Bale said: “No one should allow the recent failures of Messrs Rees-Mogg and Baker to muster the famous 48 letters required to trigger a no-confidence vote in May to fool them into thinking that Conservative Euro-fanatics are and always have been merely a phantom army.

“Maybe once upon a time that was the case, and maybe they’ve never been quite as numerous as they, and their equally obsessive media cheerleaders, have liked to suggest. But, with the Tory press on their side, with Ukip waiting in the wings, with constituency associations and even their less fanatical parliamentary colleagues growing ever more hostile to the EU, and – most importantly – with the maths as tight as it’s often been, they haven’t really needed to be. And that remains as true right now as it has been in the past.”

In an interview with The New York Times, Professor Bale also commented on Rees-Mogg’s decision to make public his letter of no-confidence in Theresa May’s leadership, describing it as ‘highly unusual’. Professor Bale said: “You used to be able to rely on Tory MPs to be broadly loyal. I think now you have a bunch of people who are actually prepared to die in a ditch for an idea or a principle, and that is a big, big change.”

Deal or no deal?

Dr Stijn van Kessel, Lecturer in European Politics in Queen Mary’s School of Politics and International Relations was interviewed on BBC Radio London about the EU’s perspective on a future Brexit agreement. Dr van Kessel said: “There’s no general mood that the UK should be punished. It’s actually a widespread mood of regret that Brexit is happening and a realisation that it’s no good for any side really – that’s the dominant attitude at least.

“Radical right parties that are generally very Eurosceptic do not really make this a big issue and Brexit is not seen as a means to fuel their own Euroscepticism. There’s a widespread desire that it is best if we just move on with it and make the divorce as orderly as possible,” he added.

The effects of Brexit on mental and physical health

Commenting on a recent study for CNN which reported a rise in the number of antidepressants prescribed in England after the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, Kamaldeep Bhui CBE, Professor of Cultural Psychiatry & Epidemiology at Queen Mary said: “The study mainly looked at antidepressant prescriptions, which is not a perfect method to measure mental health. Antidepressant monitoring data is not very accurate, and there are many reasons people may take such drugs.

“But the study is an important signal and politicians need to be more careful about decision-making, and how it affects people’s health. There is a link between Brexit and health and it’s worth thinking about.

“A fragmenting society brings health problems which affect everybody, because people feel less supported when communities break down. The acrimony sparked by Brexit risks increased rates of distress, anxiety, depression and related issues, leading to excessive use of alcohol and perhaps even unhealthy eating behaviours and obesity.

“The vote to leave the EU was, in part, an expression of growing right-wing extremism and discrimination in the UK. This causes higher levels of fear, anxiety and depression among ethnic minorities at the receiving end of racism and intolerance.

“People who experience racism and discrimination have higher levels of poor mental health. They also have high blood pressure, more physical health problems and the stress produces all sorts of changes in the body, including triggering immune responses that may explain poorer mental and physical health.

“The extremists themselves are also at risk of suffering mental health problems, as they are dealing with a lot of anger, frustration and conflict, all contributing to dissatisfaction and poor mental health,” he added.

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