What led to Brexit

A hard Brexit on December 31 seems increasingly likely. The negotiations between the UK and the EU have reached a new low.

In our Convoco Editions The Standing of Europe in the New Imperial World Order and in our Podcasts some of our thinkers have offered their thoughts on the question “What led to Brexit?” Read their insights below:

Britain has benefited the least from the EU

“The reason is that it has relatively low trade costs with countries outside the EU (for example because of low language barriers), its own market is the second largest amongst EU Members, and its pattern of comparative advantage implies net exports in the services sectors where the European Single Market is relatively underdeveloped. Hence, the benefits of membership to the EU are lower in the UK than elsewhere.” – Gabriel Felbermayr –

in: “Europe and the Global Economic Order”, Convoco Edition 2020.

Why do the English feel different?

Birke Häcker draws our attention to different legal cultures:

The German and French legal families are both founded on the tradition of Roman and canon law, “while English common law developed by and large independently of these influences.”

“The basic tenor of the English common law with its distinct mercantile flavor differs significantly from the Continental European codifications. As already indicated by their name, “civil codes” such as the French or German are geared towards the paradigm of a civil society […] By contrast, English law, which has always resisted calls for a comprehensive codification and which therefore still flows primarily from judge-made precedents, continues to reflect (of necessity) the aspirations and values of its commercial classes.

The English Common law follows a utilitarian philosophy, whereas the continental European Civil law is closer to that of Kant. This difference is also reflected in the societal function of the legal families.

“To the English mind, the law provides a framework within which individuals can act and arrange their affairs without intervention by the state (negative conception of liberty). According to French and German thinking, by contrast, the law is essential in enabling individuals to realize their private autonomy; it is freedom through law (positive conception of liberty).”

The relationship between the individual and the state differs as well: “In continental legal thinking, there developed since the French Revolution a clear demarcation line between “private” law and “public” law.” In consequence, there are specialised administrative courts and ordinary courts. “In England, by contrast, the starting point is a single body of law, to be applied and continuously developed further by the ordinary courts.” – Birke Häcker –

in: “European Legal Identities and European Legal Identity”, Convoco Edition 2020.

Europe does not sufficiently recognise that the UK feels at least as close to the Common Wealth as it does to the EU

In our German Convoco! Podcast Birke Häcker gives two examples of fundamental misunderstandings between the UK and the EU.

“The UK does not really understand why the EU puts so much emphasis on its principles such as the integrity of the common market instead of following purely economic considerations. The British believe that, given the UK’s €100 billion trade deficit with the EU, it should be in the EU’s interest to agree on a free trade deal even if it means accepting some regulatory deviations. A second example: Europe does not sufficiently recognise that the UK feels at least as close to the Common Wealth as it does to the EU. Europe fails to understand how much the nation’s self-image is still shaped by its colonial past. Europe is only a marginal figure in this narrative.” – Birke Häcker –

in: “Was kommt nach Brexit?”, CONVOCO! Podcast #22, 16.08.2020

Birke Häcker

Brexit is an attempt to escape regulation

“We [the British] are an enterprise culture so we don’t like to put limits on enterprise. That’s why Brexit exists. Brexit is an attempt to escape regulation.” – David Chipperfield –

in: “What does the New Century Require from Architecture?”, CONVOCO! Podcast #24, 25.09.2020

I am convinced that a substantial part of the resentment about European integration is generated by traditional myths

Sven Simon sees Brexit partly as a symptom of a wider European problem:

“The fundamental approval of the European idea faces latent skepticism towards the existing institutions.”

Sven Simon argues that this scepticism is driven by recurring “Euro-myths” about Brussel’s “absurd” bureaucracy and regulations. An illustrative example is the criticism of the so called “cucumber-regulation“:

As with many other bureaucratization narratives, our assessment of this regulation changes when we look at how it came about. It was absolutely not the European Commission’s idea to specify the degree of curvature of cucumbers […] The wish to enact this regulation came explicitly from the trade, which claimed that such standard-shaped cucumbers could be packaged faster and compared better, counted more easily and transported more efficiently. This initially banal-sounding regulation is part of one of the European Union’s most successful areas of activity: the creation of common—often technical— rules for a European Single Market. This is the only way that trade can function in a way that is efficient in resources and ultimately environmentally friendly. […] In the vast majority of cases, the rules that sometimes seem to us so absurd thus concern the necessary adjustment standards that merely create the conditions for a functioning Single Market.

Euro-myths run the risk of becoming unchallenged truth at some point through constant repetition. Sooner or later, supposedly crazy bureaucracy becomes a rhetorical sure-fire success, on which Eurosceptic parties can all too easily capitalize.” – Sven Simon –

in: “Europe, What is to Be Done? The EU Between Old Myths and New Challenges”, Convoco Edition 2020

The United Kingdom is also a victim of the Union’s weakness

Stefan Korioth

“Brexit began with Britain’s legitimate or at least debatable criticism of the way in which the European institutions functioned, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and the latter’s far-reaching incursions into Members’ self-determination. The fact that this criticism could not be adequately translated into a measured debate about reform either at European or national level, leading instead to an almost uncontrollable disaster for both parties, means the loss of an important Member. It also shows, unfortunately, that withdrawal is the only viable way of escaping Europe’s undesirable developments and impositions.– Stefan Korioth –

in: “Where is Europe going? An Appeal for More Diversity in the European Union”, Convoco Edition 2020.

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