Sunday, November 16, 2014

London, England, Britain and Europe: Places Apart?

A short piece about the position of London in English, UK and EU politics. Written for the blog of the APSA British Politics Group.

Academics are often as guilty as many others for lazily using ‘London’ as a catch-all term to describe the UK, UK Government, the financial institutions of ‘the City of London’, England, or ‘the South’ or South East of England. Of course, as the UK’s capital city this usage can often seem logical enough. But London is a place in itself, a city of millions with a distinct population, an economic and social system with its own needs and interests, a place with an identity and politics of its own.

At a time when attention is fixed on Scotland it is worth remembering that it is not just Scotland or areas such as Wales or Northern Ireland that are distinct political spaces. London, an area with a larger and faster growing population and economy than anywhere else in the UK, and the UK’s most powerful cultural and political centre, deserves more attention. And, for this author and others, it deserves its own fully devolved government. The ‘London question’ – how the rest of the UK relates to its capital city that is fast becoming another place – is one of the most pressing questions in British politics.

To continue reading please visit the blog of the APSA British Politics Group.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Piece for E!Sharp: 10 questions for the EU about a Brexit

Every week seems to bring a new row between Britain and the rest of the EU. UK-EU relations have never been what could be called stable or easy-going. But relations today seem to have reached new lows. Britain comes across as a wrecker or blackmailer that is ‘lighting a fire under the EU’, to quote Philip Hammond MP, Britain’s Foreign Secretary. Things are so bad that few doubt leaked reports that Angela Merkel is prepared to see Britain leave rather than agree to British demands to restrict freedom of movement within the EU.
If UK-EU differences cannot be reconciled and a British exit becomes highly likely - admittedly very big ifs in themselves - then the EU needs to give careful thought to ten questions about where this could lead it. Britain too will need to think about the EU’s likely answers. How UK-EU relations develop in the face of a Brexit will depend less on what London demands and more on how the rest of the EU - the much larger partner in this - responds.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Written evidence to the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee

Follow this link for a pdf or webpage copy of evidence I submitted to the inquiry 'The future of devolution after the referendum'. My evidence argues for a devolved parliament and government for London. Can also be found on one of my pages.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

What if the EU ...?

Today the DGAP and PISM released the edited compilation of the full 'What if the EU ...?' series I contributed a piece to. See pages 15-17 for my piece, 'Living Awkwardly Ever After: What If the British Had Voted to Leave the European Economic Community in 1975?'

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Piece on UK-EU relations for the blog of the APSA British Politics Group

A short piece for the blog of the APSA British Politics Group in which I summarise the findings of the 2014 DGAP report I edited with Almut Moller, 'The United Kingdom and the European Union: what would a Brexit mean for the EU and other states around the world?”

Thursday, October 02, 2014

It’s time for a Balance of Competences Review of the UK

A piece for the LSE's British Politics and Policy Blog

Scotland’s vote to remain within the UK has triggered a pressing constitutional debate about the allocation of powers and competences in the UK. Meanwhile, the UK government has been busy reviewing the balance of competences of the EU. With attention now on the imbalances and inconsistencies in the distribution of competences within the UK, the recent EU review might offer lessons for approaching the UK’s constitutional conundrum.

Since July 2012 the UK government has been undertaking an audacious review into UK-EU relations called the ‘Review of the Balance of Competences’. Driven by a belief, especially within the Conservative Party, that the EU has taken too much power (to simplify the more technical term of ‘competences’) from the UK, the review set out to test this claim and publish its findings in 32 evidence based sectoral reports. By doing so the review provides evidence for a bigger political discussion that will follow it, and as such is noted intended to reach any clear political decisions itself. Those political decisions are likely to feed into whether to move forward in a renegotiation of the UK’s membership of the EU, something that could then be followed by an in-out referendum.
The constitutional distribution of powers within the UK – whether to areas such as Scotland or to local government – has been the subject of any number of reports and inquiries. Today, thanks to the Scottish referendum, the need to address the issue is more real than ever before. Indeed, how the UK approaches the issue is likely to either make or break it. This has led to various calls for constitutional conventions and Royal commissions. If the UK government is prepared to invest a great deal of time and effort into the matter of the EU’s balance of competences, should it not do the same for the UK? As historian Timothy Garton-Ash argued in the Guardian: “In what rational universe can [the EU’s balance of competences] be separated from determining the balance of competences inside the UK?” Could then a review of the balance of competences of the UK be undertaken? Does the EU review offer lessons or even perhaps a model – if the time is available – to finding a way to rebalance and sort the current constitutional mess the UK is in?
The Imbalanced Union
The list of problems with the UK’s internal balance of powers is a long and familiar one, one the debate in Scotland has once again thrown a light on. Devolution has been focused on certain areas such as Scotland and Wales, allowing them to develop as more distinct political spaces within the UK, building on existing differences that pre-date devolution. While this is to be welcomed as a move away from the over-concentration of power in Westminster, the lack of any clearly defined UK-wide agendas in health or transport means these areas can seem increasingly detached from the UK. Devolving further powers, as promised in a variety of ways by the main UK parties during the Scottish referendum debate, could form part of a solution to the flawed setup whereby Scotland spends money it has no responsibility for raising. But it then leaves open the problem of what it is that Westminster does for Scotland beyond foreign, defence and some tax and macroeconomic policies. Then there is the West Lothian question of why Scottish MPs can vote on matters that pertain to England while English MPs cannot vote on similar matters for Scotland as they have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament. This all adds to the impression that there is little strategic sense of how the UK as a whole is or should be changing together constitutionally.
Even if the Scots had voted to leave, the imbalances within the remaining UK would not have gone away. Questions already exist about the voting rights of Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs, and the dominance of Greater London over the rest of the UK is an underlying theme the management of which is arguably the most demanding challenge of all. The failure of Labour’s half-hearted attempt at English regionalism in the 2004 North East referendum has stalled further efforts at devolution within England. London’s place in the UK is often crudely taken to mean the government in Whitehall or the political elite in Westminster. This is an unfair description of Britain’s and the EU’s biggest city, the home to more people than live in Scotland and Wales combined, and a region with its own political institutions such as the Mayor, London Assembly, and ‘the City.’ Attempts to fill out the incomplete devolution settlement by granting further powers – perhaps even fully devolved powers – to London would also lead to questions about whether London MPs should be barred from voting on non-London English matters. Not that ‘English laws’ themselves are that clearly discernable, as the McKay Commission found. Proposals for an English Parliament immediately run into questions surrounding the balance of competences: what powers and competences should rest with it, which with local or regional government, and which at UK level.
Greater London’s own current political and administrative setup raises questions about the rather pathetic, emaciated state of local government, especially in England. As the London Finance Commission noted, as a proportion of GDP Canada’s ratio of local and regional spending is nine times higher than that in the UK. In France the ratio is nearly three times greater. On everything from housing, tube lines, planning and schools, Whitehall and Westminster – and especially HM Treasury – call the shots in England, with knock-on effects for the other parts of the UK thanks to the way money is allocated. With local councillors largely powerless, and few people in England with access to any other level of representation, MPs are overwhelmed with local matters. Meanwhile the UK executive that MPs are sent to Westminster to hold to account goes about its business, albeit one where a centralised Whitehall itself is overloaded with work.
This growing inability to offer a UK-wide policy agenda is not a mere dry, technical issue. It means the UK can lack some common political themes or mechanisms to manage relation between its different parts. The United Kingdom is there to serve a purpose: for most UK citizens that purpose will be unclear if Westminster lacks any means of doing anything or behaving as a UK-wide government. The imbalances are felt even in foreign policy, one area Westminster retains powers. A study by the IPPR into Englishness found a strong link between Euroscepticism and English frustration at the imbalanced constitutional status of the UK.
A Balance of Competences Review of the UK?
Solving these imbalances will not be easy. As mentioned, there have been a large number of detailed and insightful reports, each putting forward proposals. There have been repeated calls for constitutional conventions, Royal Commissions or some meeting of representatives from the UK’s various parliaments to hammer out a deal. Whatever is chosen, a means will need to be found to provide an evidence based assessment of the current distribution of powers. The UK Government’s review of the EU’s competences offers some lessons, but nine points need to be taken into account.
First, while the EU review is a complex one, it is made more straightforward thanks to the EU’s competences being set out in its treaties. These treaties provide a constitutional map for the EU that the UK lacks with its uncodified constitution. The EU’s more limited competences also mean the review does not really have to tackle the thorny issue of tax raising powers and allocation of spending, something HM Treasury may be the most unwilling to see change. It has also not been a speedy one, the review having started in July 2012 and expected to conclude in the autumn of 2014. While a UK review could be more compact, we should be under no illusions that the scale would be much larger.
Second, would a UK review be about the effectiveness or the legitimacy of where powers should reside? When the initial findings of the EU review pointed to a balance that is about right for practical and administrative reasons, the findings were dismissed by Eurosceptics as irrelevant to the bigger question of whether they are legitimate.
Third, the EU review works on the assumption that subsidiarity means a competence should rest with Westminster unless it is shown to be necessary that it rests with the EU. Could a UK review take a position that upholds the idea of parliamentary sovereignty whereby all powers rest with Westminster unless proved to be necessarily otherwise? Would Westminster be prepared to consider the idea of sharing powers? The EU review has served as a reminder that Westminster has something of a zero-sum, majoritarian mentality about power: you devolve power within the UK, not share them; you sign over and can later, if necessary, repatriate powers from the EU, not pool them.
Fourth, even if Westminster is willing to share, as the British government may find with the EU, rebalancing competences could require some powers to be taken back while others are given. How willing would Westminster be to devolve further powers, and how willing would areas such as Scotland be to return some powers to Westminster if this was deemed necessary for an effectively functioning UK-wide system? How might this conflict with long-standing areas of devolution in Scotland, such as education and law where administrative devolution existed long before political devolution in 1999 (and some areas predate the union of 1707)? Some in Scotland would be as unwilling to return some powers to Westminster as some in Westminster would be to hand over powers to the EU, even if in both cases evidence was produced that showed this could improve the balance of competences and make for more effective governance.
Fifth, the balance of EU competences could change in the future, necessitating another review. This is hardly unusual. Federal systems such as Germany and the USA have ongoing debates and mechanisms for reviewing what competences should lie where. The UK would need to move from a situation where it has these debates in Scotland or Greater London to one where they are UK-wide and become a standard constitutional procedure.
Sixth, who is to undertake the review and who is it to serve? The EU review is overseen by the Cabinet Office and the FCO and implemented by individual Whitehall departments. It is unlikely a UK government led review would be seen as impartial by some in the UK. The EU review itself has run into this problem. The British government has been keen to present the review as being about EU reform, and not simply about the UK. Despite this it has been spurned by other EU states who view it as being about the UK’s national interests. Even in the UK, Eurosceptics have dismissed it as a government whitewash.
Seventh, who might dominate and shape the work of a UK review? With the EU review a large amount of evidence and opinions have so far been received from businesses, academics, NGOs, charities, lobby groups, lawyers, political activists, political parties, local and devolved government, a few foreign governments and organisations, and some individual UK citizens. It may end up being viewed as one beholden to well-organised groups such as businesses or political activists. The same could happen in a UK review, where some well organised an resourced areas, such as Scotland or London, could dominate the findings.
Eighth, the EU review has been driven in part by growing political pressure from the emergence of UKIP. What political backing or campaigns would push a UK review? So far most such campaigns have been geographically focused on Scotland, Wales, London, and to a lesser and more vague way in England. Thanks to the Scottish referendum there might now be growing pressure for a constitutional convention, but this has yet to grab much public attention or backing although this could emerge.
Ninth, an emerging problem with the EU review is that it shows a disjuncture between popular feelings about what the EU does and what it actually does. The EU review can provide evidence to help counter such views, but the review cannot do this on its own. A UK review could find that some of the distribution of competences within the UK is contrary to popular opinion or opinions held in certain local area or regions. Changing that opinion will then be for whatever follows the review. How this is to be done would be for whatever that is, for example would a UK balance of competences review serve a constitutional convention that is then followed by a referendum? Or would it be for a general election to settle? The referendum could fail or deepen divisions if an area of the UK rejected it. In a UK review this could become more likely if the review was seen as unfair. Getting the balance right from the start will be important, but this could run into a problem of appearing to prejudice the impartiality of a review if it is intended to gather evidence.
A Rebalanced Union?
We should be under no illusions that the UK faces a series of growing problems about its internal distribution of powers. The UK may move towards a federal union, or continue its current quasi-federal arrangements, become a confederation, or perhaps outline a series of arrangements guaranteeing some form of UK-wide commonwealth. Whatever is the end result, a way will need to be found to review and report on the current distribution of competences. While the issue of the EU is important, obsessions about the UK becoming a part of a federal Europe too easily distract from the need to think more carefully about the UK’s own internal balance of competences. The current EU review shows how difficult a similar review – or indeed, any form or review – of the UK would be.

Europe to Britain: Our Patience is Running Out

The E.U. values Britain's membership and a "Brexit" would be felt across Europe and around the world. But Britain is not indispensable. If faced with a choice the E.U. comes first, Britain second.
Once again Europe has found itself transfixed by British politics. Scotland's independence referendum raised unease across Europe, whether it was Spanish worries about Catalan independence or German concerns an independent Scotland would carry on Britain's habit of demanding special E.U. opt-outs. But one concern registered everywhere: that a Scottish exit from the U.K. might make a British exit from the E.U. more likely.
Almost all debate about a Brexit is about what it would mean for Britain. Yet a Brexit would have big - but largely unexplored - implications for the E.U. and Europe's place in the world. A recent compilation of research from 26 countries from across Europe and countries such as the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China, Singapore and Brazil has shed light on European and international thinking about where U.K.-E.U. relations are headed. The message for Britain is hardly positive.
Britain's European debate does not pass unnoticed. But understanding of the nuanes of the debate varies from country to country. While nobody is planning for a Brexit, many feel plans may become necessary because Britain's debate increaingly seems detached and closed to outside influence. Nobody is under any illusions that a Brexit would be an unprecedented and damaging experience for the E.U. and Europe. It is the U.K., however, that many feel would be the most damaged.
Views of Britain's behaviour are framed more by the wider concerns facing the E.U., especially the Eurozone. While the catchwords of the U.K.'s reform agenda for the E.U. - competitiveness, flexibility, democracy - resonate across the E.U., the real pressure for reform comes from those rescuing the Eurozone.
Countries within the Euro zone, Euro pre-in countries such as Poland and Sweden, and even Denmark with its opt-out, have focused on Germany and France for leadership. Despite its efforts, London is seen as a bystander and at times an additional hurdle.
Too often Britain misunderstands initiatives that seem to align with the U.K.'s own hopes. States such as the Netherlands and Germany seek a better enforcement of the principle of subsidiarity, not London's aims for repatriation. A multispeed E.U. is considered a possibility, but not - as the U.K. might hope - in a pick-and-choose fashion. There is increasingly less appetite in Brussels for "third ways" like Switzerland. For other E.U. member states, London's proposals, while tempting in the short-term, are not seen as sustainable in the longer run as they could leave the E.U. weak and divided.
This does not mean nobody worries about losing the U.K. Almost every state worries about losing Britain's free-market, liberal outlook. Yet some countries note a growing "mercantilist" attitude in British thinking. Some countries traditionally close to the U.K. also note a decline in economic links, and some are clear they would seek to exploit the economic opportunities that could arise from Britain's marginalisaiton. Britain can forget any hope of securing a withdrawal deal which allows it to undercut the E.U. States outside the E.U. fear the economic disruptions of a Brexit, and dread the E.U. becomming more inward looking.
Euroepan secuirty would also be changed. France would be left facing Germany's "culture of restraint" on international affairs, leaving little hope of improvements in European defence. For the USA, a Brexit would stunt long-standing hopes for improvements to European defence cooperation, weakening relations between the E.U. and NATO. A Brexit would create opportunities for outside powers to play on European divisions.
While economic and security concerns remind other E.U. members of the U.K.'s role, they do not necessarily generate sympathy. Instead the feeling is exasperation at London's inability to offer anything but negative leadership. The U.K.'s debate on limiting immigration is seen as a direct attack on the Single Market's right of free movement of people and labour. E.U. countries fear the influence of British Eurosceptics on their own domestic debate and are frustrated London has not done more to confront the issue.
The end result is a situation where the rest of the E.U. is angry at how the U.K. appears to be advancing agendas that are about Britain's national interest and where the threat of Brexit is used as leverage - or blackmail as some see it - to achieve these aims.
For both the E.U. and the U.K., avoiding a further deterioration of relations will not be easy. With the U.K.'s general election campaign soon to get underway (and the ongoing fallout from Scotland's referendum), engaging London on European policies is likely to become even more difficult.
With Britain on the sidelines of E.U. politics, both the U.K. and the rest of the E.U. will need to appreciate that this could easily turn into the outside. Britain could leave, or the E.U. could lose patience and end up excluding Britain by integrating in ways that leave it behind.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A devolved government for London would be a big step towards rebalancing power in the UK

In the wake of the Scottish independence referendum, and Cameron’s announcement of a ‘devolution revolution’, Tim Oliver argues for creating a fully devolved government for London. This would not only improve the running of the most important region in the UK, it would go some way towards breaking the problematic link between the politics and government of the UK and the politics and government of London.
Devolving more power to the UK’s nationsregions and cities, as promised in response to the surge in support for Scottish independence, would bring a welcome change to the over-centralised nature of the UK state, especially in England. In the debate so far, London has often been portrayed as the villain, with anger directed at the over-centralised UK government based there, the incredible power the wider metropolis wields over the rest of the UK, and how UK government and London’s interests too often align. Yet as the UK’s most powerful, rich and most populous region, London itself cannot be forgotten in whatever happens now Scotland has voted to stay in the UK. Creating a fully devolved government for London – or technically ‘Greater London’ to use the term for the geographical administrative area – would not only improve the running of the most important region in the UK, it would go some way towards breaking the problematic link between the politics and government of the UK and the politics and government of London.
No other large developed state has a capital city that dominates the rest of the country as London dominates Britain. London’s population equals that of Scotland and Wales combined, with a growing population meaning Northern Ireland can soon be added to the list. If the larger metro-region measurement is used then London is home to 13.6 million people, or 21% of the UK’s population. Its economy dwarfs that of any other region, producing about 22% of the UK’s economic output, making it the richest area of the UK, with central London the richest area in Europe. ‘The City’, London’s financial heart, is not just the centre of British business but the centre of global finance.
London is home to most of the UK’s main government, security, diplomatic, media and cultural institutions (including large investments such as the Millennium Dome and the London Olympics). It is home to thelargest concentration of top-ranking universities in the world. It also stands out as Europe’s premier international city, especially for business. Paris might come close to matching London on population, but in terms of high-skilled knowledge based jobs Paris does not come even remotely close. London’s growing population is a cosmopolitan one, fed by immigration, with over a third of Londoners born outside the UK. For London, competition and comparison is not with Glasgow, the North West of England or even cities such as Berlin. It measures itself against the likes of New York, Tokyo, Dubai, Rio and Hong Kong. In the UK and Europe, London is in a league of its own.
This dominant position creates a host of problems for the rest of the UK. Economically, London has something of a stranglehold over the UK, with ‘the City’ in particular wielding incredible power, leaving the UK vulnerable to financial shocks. Investment floods into London thanks to the returns being much higher, a report by the IPPR estimated that per-capita transport spending in London is 500 times as much as that in the north-east of England. London’s insanely high property prices drive up prices across the UK. Large amounts of the infrastructure of the UK, whether roads, rail, air or energy supplies, are structured with London in mind. And things show no signs of changing. London’s expanding population and economy mean it will go on shaping UK needs. Little surprise then that people ranging from Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond to the LSE’s Professor Tony Travers have described London as the UK’s ‘dark star’ sucking in people, resources and energy.
For many inhabitants of the UK, London can also be a foreign country. London’s white-British population remains the city’s largest single group of residents, but is now around 45% of the population. Its international and large immigrant population makes for an identity that is a mix of English, British, European and international. The EU itself is not viewed as the threat it is in some other areas of the UK. This is not to say that London is without racial or social problems, the London riots of 2011 being a vivid demonstration of underlying tensions. However, as the BBC’s Economics editor Robert Preston argues: ‘Much of the rest of the UK sees globalisation and its manifestations – such as immigration – as disempowering, impoverishing and a threat. Whereas for Londoners, globalisation is an economic competition they are apparently winning’.
Little wonder then that to the rest of the UK London can appear an increasingly distant, alien and controlling power. Whether in Scotland or in the rise of UKIP across England, campaigning on an ‘anti-London’ ticket pays dividends. The UK Parliament and Government in London – or more specifically in the Westminster and Whitehall areas of central London – can appear to live in a London zone 1 bubble of their own, one beholden to central London’s needs and lifestyle whether in the finance and international focused agenda of ‘the City’ or the housing needs that gave rise to the much despised ‘bedroom tax’. That the largely London centred UK media only recently awoke to the news that Scotland might break from the UK only adds to the impression that London lives in a world of its own.
To be fair, millions of Londoners themselves criticise the way the UK and their city are run, with a common enough complaint being that the rest of the UK drains London of taxes and investment. It is for this reason that proposals to create an English Parliament soon run into the problem of London: base such a Parliament in London and it adds to London’s hold on England and the UK; build it outside London and the Parliament risks being ignored by the UK’s most powerful region. Similar problems face proposals to move UK government out of London into some purpose built city akin to Washington D.C. or Canberra. The London Question is in so many of the problems that confront the UK: the centralisation and accountability of power, Scotland’s future, growing English nationalism, relations with Europe, growing inequality, unease about immigration, population change, the future of British identity, questions about where to invest, and the role of finance in the UK’s economy.
A way then is needed to break the link between the government of London and the government of the UK. In the absence of an English Parliament or new capital city, the answer could lie in the creation of a fully devolved government for London. Greater London already has a devolution settlement that dare not speak its name. The (re)establishment in 1999 of the Greater London Authority, with its Assembly and Mayor, provide London with political institutions to reflect the distinct political space the metropolis has increasingly become. Recent proposals to increase the powers and funding of the GLA could become a reality if UK government goes forward with devolving more powers. Welcome as they are, London could go further and by doing so add to much needed political change in the rest of the UK. A devolved government of London would, in cooperation with the city’s local authorities, run the metropolis’s life in a way similar to that in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. All three have varying powers, but following any of them would allow London to run itself more than ever before. It should be for Londoners to decide if they need a bedroom tax. If the elected government of London wanted to cover the tuition fees for London’s university students, and could find the money, then so be it.
A devolved London government offers several benefits for the UK and London. The most immediate gain for the UK would be a clearer gap between running London and running the UK. UK ministers and departments in Whitehall would have to think less about London, where their writ no longer extended as once it did, and more about the rest of the UK. This then paves the way for those looking for ways to establish devolved government within England and a move towards a more federal system. There will likely be no neat solution here, but London at least provides a neater starting point than many other areas.
The possibility that in many policy areas UK ministers could end up as ministers mainly for non-London England would make abundantly clear the need for wider change at UK level to bring in a federal UK-wide level of policy making. Similarly the Westminster Parliament would be confronted with the need to not only face the West Lothian Question – where fifty nine Scottish MPs can vote on English matters but English MPs cannot vote on similar matters that have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament – but also a Watford Gap Question where seventy three London MPs could vote on matters covering the rest of England but which won’t affect their constituencies because the powers now lie with the London Assembly. London itself would gain by being allowed to run its own affairs, easing some tensions between Londoners and the rest of the UK over issues such as investment, health, housing, or taxation. It would also clarify the issue of funding to London. London can be portrayed as either a subsidy-junky or the largest prop to the rest of the UK economy. The way forward is a more transparent system of funding for London, something the creation of a government of London would help bring about.
Of course such a proposal is not without its problems. Support for such a move would be needed from Londoners, or else it could quickly become an unwanted and unpopular level of bureaucracy. If powers were devolved would they be accompanied by genuine funding independence, or would HM Treasury continue to hold the purse strings? Hopes a devolved government of London might help break the link between UK government and politics and that of London need to take into account that London will still be the home of the UK’s political, business, cultural and media elite, with informal links between them remaining extremely strong. And where in this would we fit ‘the City’, an entity which can best be described as a powerful small city-state that has long existed at the heart of England and the UK.
Would changing the institutional arrangements of the UK’s constitution do enough to rebalance the imbalances in private investment and the influence on the UK’s international relations? The newly empowered Assembly and government could end up beholden to specific interests, as some argue thecurrent Mayor has become with London’s banking sector. Granting London control of its own affairs while the rest of England continued to be governed by institutions based in the centre of London would provoke further anger at London having it all its own way, driving London and the rest of the country further apart. And would a separate system for London work when the existing arrangement of a mayor and assembly have not dampened criticism of London’s domination of the UK, if anything perhaps exacerbating a sense of injustice that London has added representation? Such changes in London would therefore have to be accompanied by wider changes elsewhere in England along with a move by UK government to provide a federal level of oversight that covers London and other areas of the UK (although how this would apply to Scotland given it may entail taking back or rebalancing some powers is another matter).
The devolution process in the UK has long suffered from a lack of strategy. Adding London without due consideration for the rest of England and UK would only add to the chaos that could lead to UK government ending up as a weak shell that only deals with some large macroeconomic matters and external relations. And even if, for example, London were granted the same powers as Scotland, it is no guarantee that those powers would be used. Despite the significant powers granted to Scotland, the Scottish Parliament and Government have in some areas pursued profoundly conservative policy agendas.
These are not small concerns, and we should all be aware of the risk of rushing into decisions that fuel constitutional uncertainty or which add to London’s dominant position. But whatever the Scots, Welsh, Northern Irish or rest of England decide to do, we cannot avoid the question of what to do about London, its intimate relationship with UK government and their relations with the rest of the UK. Granting London a devolved government is one proposal that could go some way towards addressing this and which could trigger wider thinking and changes to the way the whole UK is run. Devolving power to London would be the ultimate test of whether UK central government is willing to give up powers and embrace fundamental reform of the UK’s constitutional system. While I’m under no illusions that such changes are either easy or going to happen anytime soon, the London Question is an unavoidable one that will remain at the heart of UK politics for a long time to come.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Monday, September 01, 2014

Greater attention should be paid to the consequences of a ‘Brexit’ for the EU and other states around the world, not just the UK

A short piece on the LSE's EUROPP blog summarising our edited 124 page report The United Kingdom and the European Union: What would a “Brexit” mean for the EU and other States around the World?

The United Kingdom and the European Union: What would a “Brexit” mean for the EU and other States around the World?

A 124 page edited compilation I've just published with Almut Möller. It gathers 26 views from research institutions and universities from sixteen EU member states, nine non-EU countries, and a view from the EU’s institutions in Brussels. It brings together a range of national viewpoints on the direction of the UK’s relations with the EU. The contributions also give an insight into how the current EU debate in Britain is perceived in other countries. The foreword is by Alexander Stubb, Prime Minister of Finland.

Monday, August 11, 2014

What would a Brexit mean for the EU?

A piece for E-International Relations mapping out some possible scenarios and implications for the EU of a British withdrawal:

A summary in table format below:

Scotland: Out of the UK and Into the EU? Part II: views from Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK.

Below is a link to the second in the edited series I've put together for the IP Journal, of views from across the EU on the Scottish independence referendum. Part I contains views from Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK:

Scotland: Out of the UK and into the EU? Part II.

In short:

Italy: National Unity Is an Inalienable Blessing

Poland: Awkward Comparisons with Crimea, Concerns About Poles in the UK and Scotland

Spain: Scottish Independence Constitutional and Acceptable, EU Membership and Its Terms Negotiable

UK: No Helping Hand to Independence, But a Helping Hand With Independence Into the EU

Friday, August 08, 2014

Scotland: Out of the UK and Into the EU? Part I: views from Belgium, France and Germany

For the DGAP's IP Journal I've put together and edited a series of views from across the EU on the Scottish independence referendum. The series is in two parts. Below is a link to Part I with views from Belgium, France and Germany:

Scotland: Out of the UK and Into the EU? Part I

Views on Scottish independence from seven member states

In short:

Belgium: Scottish Independence Could Trigger Another Political Crisis

France: The Auld Alliance Is No Competition to the Entente Cordiale

Germany: Welcome Scotland, Please Leave Your Rebate at the Door

Part II will contain views from Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Piece for the Huffington Post: The Five Routes a British Exit from the EU Could Take

This shorter version of last week's piece for the LSE appeared on the Huffington Post.

Britain could exit the EU - a Brexit - as the result of a referendum leading to a negotiated withdrawal, a unilateral withdrawal without a referendum or negotiations, Britain's expulsion, steps by the EU to freeze Britain out, or the rest of the EU leaving Britain behind in a position that lands it outside. None will be easy for Britain or the EU. All have their flaws.

The dispute between Britain and most of the rest of the EU about the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission has once again raised the question of whether Britain will leave the EU, AKA a 'Brexit'. While most discussion focuses on whether or not Britain will leave the EU, less attention has been paid to how a Brexit might happen in practice.

There are five ways it could come to pass. Some are little more than exercises in legal and political thinking. Nevertheless, each sheds light on what options are open to Britain and the EU. They also raise questions about what exactly being 'out' of the EU means. A Brexit, it should be remembered, is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It is not clear any route to a Brexit can deliver the long sought for end of settling the Europe question in British politicsor, just as importantly, settling the British question in European politics.
First, the most commonly assumed route a Brexit is expected to take is via a nation-wide referendum that ends with a result supporting withdrawal. This is then followed by UK-EU negotiations in line with the withdrawal article of the EU's treaties.
How a referendum might be triggered is in itself a matter of much speculation. The Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and UKIP each hold varying positions on when one would be called. David Cameron has committed the Conservative Party to holding an in-out referendum after an attempted renegotiation of Britain's membership. UKIP want one straight away. Labour and the Liberal Democrats support calling one following major changes to the EU, a development that would also trigger existing legislation requiring a referendum in the event of a significant transfer of powers to the EU. There is also an outside chance it could come about thanks to a backbench vote in the House of Commons.
Following the result the British government and EU would spend no more than two years negotiating Britain's withdrawal and the framework for a new post-withdrawal EU-UK relationship. Separate negotiations would also take place within the remaining EU tochange it to reflect Britain's withdrawal. The final deal offered to Britain would be subject to the approval of the rest of the EU, including the European Parliament. It will therefore be a deal that suits the EU, not just Britain.
Whether a referendum can settle the Europe question in British politics is another matter. The issue of Europe is about more than whether or not Britain should be in the EU.
The second option open to the UK is for the British Government to take the leap of a unilateral withdrawal backed only by a vote of the House of Commons to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act that took Britain into the then EEC.
Under international law there is nothing - in theory - to stop Britain unilaterally withdrawing from an international organisation such as the EU. The EU's treaties also compel only the EU to seek a negotiation, not the withdrawing member state. Under the uncodified British constitution, the sovereignty of parliament means the government does not need to seek the approval of the British people through a referendum.
This, however, is a largely academic exercise. Refusing to negotiate, or denying the British people a say on such a momentous decision, would lead to an avalanche of political, legal and economic problems.
A unilateral leap is, however, more plausible than the third possibility which is the EU expelling Britain. There is next to nothing the EU can do to expel a member. Even suspension of membership is difficult. Any attempt at expulsion would also require unanimous agreement by the rest of the EU, no easy feat in itself. The EU would then have to defend itself against an onslaught of legal challenges from the UK and from private individuals, companies and organisations affected in Britain, Europe and from around the world. Expulsion would also add to the animosity between Britain and the EU. Relations within the EU could also be strained, with some states fearing they may be next.
Fourth, rather than directly expelling Britain the rest of the EU could resort to trying tofreeze Britain out by making its life in the EU suitably uncomfortable. Just as confrontation with an unwanted and unhappy guest can be avoided by making them feel so uncomfortable that they leave of their own accord, so too might the rest of the EU feel it would be easier to make things so uncomfortable that Britain leaves the EU of its own accord.
Freezing Britain out would lead to Britain going down the route of either a referendum or a unilateral withdrawal. There is also the possibility the rest of the EU could openly discuss with the UK that it would be better for all concerned if it were to withdraw. The problem here is that Britain has been isolated in the past and hung on.
Finally, a Brexit could come about thanks to a divide between the UK and EU opening up as parts of the latter - mainly the Eurozone - develop in ways that leave Britain isolated in some outer tier. In this case it is not Britain that leaves the EU, but the EU that leaves Britain behind.
British governments have taken steps to prevent the emergence of some closed inner-group within the EU. Countries outside the Eurozone such as Sweden and Poland have also opposed such moves out of fear they too will be left behind. Compared to Britain, however, they have shown a willingness to develop connections to the EU's core that will help ensure that any divide that emerges does not leave them behind.
These five possibilities, each complex and unprecedented, all beg the question of what being 'outside' the EU means. However Britain or the EU were to part company, they cannot then pretend the other does not exist. Britain will remain a major European power, its population expected to overtake Germany's in the next 20-30 years. Similarly, unless there is some catastrophic failing of the Eurozone and disintegration of the Union, the EU will remain Europe's predominant political organisation. Brussels will be the lodestar for much of pan-European politics, economics and security (if not military security). Britain will spend a large amount of its time looking towards the EU star.
A referendum or unilateral withdrawal cannot compel the EU to give Britain what it wants beyond an official withdrawal. What 'out' Britain then secures will be shaped by what the rest of the EU and other powers such as the United States are willing to grant it in terms of new or recalibrated political and economic relations. At the same time, expulsion or exclusion would not solve the longer-term problem for the EU of how to deal with Britain.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Scotland and the EU: At the Braveheart of Europe or a Little Britain?

A piece published by the DGAP's IP journal.

Will the EU accept a breakaway Scotland seeking to maintain the exclusions granted it in the United Kingdom? While we must not project onto Scotland expectations and hopes borne of frustration with the UK, we must equally be careful not to predict the policies of an independent Scotland based entirely on its current place in the UK.
The debate about Scotland and the EU focuses almost entirely on whether an independent Scotland could become a member of the EUand whether Scottish independence might encourage other breakaway regions in the EU to follow suit. As a result the debate largely overlooks three equally important questions: First, what would it mean for the EU to agree to the Scottish government’s aim for Scotland to keep the same terms of membership as the UK with assorted opt-outs and exclusions? This leads to a second question of how an independent Scotland might behave as a EU member. Finally, almost entirely overlooked with rare exceptions, is what Scottish independence could mean for the remaining UK’s relations with the EU.
An independent Scotland would be a positive, pro-European country determined to take its place at the heart of Europe. This was the message Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond delivered at the College of Europe in April. Britain’s leading euroskeptic party, UKIP, has traditionally lacked much support in Scotland. Scottish politics and political parties have tended to stay clear of the more hostile euroskeptic debate prevalent elsewhere in Britain. Remaining in the EU is seen as an integral part of the idea of an independent Scotland, a country long accustomed to playing a smaller part in a larger union. However, while an independent Scotland would lack a euroskepticism that wants to leave the EU, it could place itself in the slow lane of a multispeed Europe and by doing so make such a Europe more likely.
More often than not, Scottish opinion on the EU – as with so many other issues – is measured against opinion elsewhere in the UK. This creates a simplistic view of pro-European Scotland versus euroskeptic England when opinion varies across the UK – and within England. Polling shows voters in London – the UK’s economic heart and home to a population equal to that of Scotland and Wales combined (one-third of whom were born overseas) – are just as likely as the Scots to support EU membership. Polling also shows areas such assouthwestern and northwestern England are less hostile to continued EU membership. England is undeniably home to some of the strongest levels of support for UK withdrawal, a development seenincreasingly in connection with the rise of English nationalism. Then again, Wales – that other Celtic nation with a devolved government – has also seen growing support for UKIP.
Also, opinion in Scotland should not be taken for granted. When the UK held a referendum on whether to remain in the then EEC in 1975, the Scots were amongst the least enthusiastic with only 58.4 percentvoting to stay in compared to a UK average of 67.2 percent, and an England average of 68.7 percent. Today polling shows support in Scotland for staying in the EU hovers between 53-61 percent, not far from what it was in 1975.
Even the differences between England and Scotland can be exaggerated. Analysis from “What Scotland Thinks” shows the proportion who would vote to leave the EU is six points lower in Scotland than in England. This is a difference, but as John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, argues, it is not enough to suggest a groundswell of support for the EU in Scotland. For example, the euro is just as toxic in Scotland as it is in England, with one recent poll finding only four percent of Scots support the idea of an independent Scotland joining the euro. This is one of the reasons why Scottish nationalists are keener to retain a currency union with the rest of the UK than go near the euro.
There is also evidence that Scottish opinion on Europe might be hardening. In the 2014 European Parliament elections UKIP secured their first Scottish MEP. Despite this success UKIP’s overall support in Scotland might be relatively weak, but one wonders how a left-wing euroskepticism – one that attacks the free market, deregulatory, austerity agenda that dominates the EU – would be received in Scotland where left-of center politics tends to be more popular. The Scots might not want to leave the EU (although a majority support the idea of the UK holding a referendum on the issue), but they don’t currently seem in a rush to be at the heart of it.
It is therefore no surprise that the Scottish government has put some limits on its aspirations for an independent Scotland in the EU. “Scotland’s Future: Your guide to an independent Scotland,” the Scottish National Party (SNP) government’s manifesto, makes clear that in joining the EU an independent Scotland would seek the UK’s exemptions from the euro, Schengen, and some justice and home affairs legislation. Edinburgh also expects to secure Scotland’s share of Britain’s budgetary rebate that is much resented elsewhere in the EU. The Scottish government argues it would be impractical to reopen budget negotiations. But as others have made clear, the rest of the EU will be quick to try and ditch a rebate that could see them paying Scotland €354 million a year. The twist for Scotland is that if it does not secure its share of the UK’s rebate then it too will have to pay a €55 million share of the rebate to the remaining UK. More importantly, for some in the EU scrapping Scotland’s share of the rebate will be a way of limiting the potential for Scottish independence to spread a culture of opt-outs and exclusions in the EU.
But we should be careful before concluding that Scotland is destined to play the role of a Little Britain in Europe. Even as a part of the UK, Scotland has developed a distinct approach. Long accustomed to sharing its sovereignty within a larger union, debates in Scottish politics lack the absolutism that often dominates Westminster’s debates about parliamentary sovereignty and the EU. Despite the UK being one of the most centralized systems of government in the developed world, Scotland has long maintained distinct political, social, and economic institutions.
In pushing for independence the SNP, once opposed to the EU, has long since embraced the idea of EU membership and ideas of shared sovereignty, even if the latter is more vividly demonstrated in their desire to share the pound sterling with the rest of the UK than the euro. Scotland’s political parties lack the deep divisions over Europe that have plagued parties at a UK level. On immigration, Scotland’s need for people and its sparsely populated spaces has meant a less unpleasant debate about immigration compared to that of England (although Scottish opinion on immigration may be hardening).
An independent Scotland would also likely set out to distance itself from the UK, perhaps developing distinct policies over energy, fisheries, or the environment. In England, Europe has become a source of resentment, something that holds Britain – or England – back. Any politics of resentment in Scotland tend to be toward the UK and Westminster. The EU and Brussels could eventually take their place in an independent Scotland, but currently the EU is seen more as a way forward and part of a fresh start. This would be helped by the tone of Scotland’s independence referendum debate, which has been more wide-ranging than the narrow one of trade and sovereignty we can expect should the UK ever hold an in-out referendum on the EU.
Independence would also mean that as a smaller state, Scotland cannot expect to wield the same degree of power and weight as the UK. The UK struggles to balance a desire to lead Europe in the world with unease at leading in Europe. Scotland’s focus will largely be on leading in Europe. Public opinion could soften thanks to a political debate that loses Westminster’s more negative tone. Relations with the EU could also develop if relations with the remaining UK become difficult, for example over sharing the pound sterling. Scotland may give up its share of the budgetary rebate if membership negotiations demand it. It may also make a written commitment to aspiring to join the euro in the long run, although any such agreement will not be made on a Scotland-Brussels basis but emerge from ongoing tensions between the eurozone (i.e. Germany) and other non-eurozone members committed to joining such as Poland and Sweden. These states will have clear ideas and wordings in mind for what Scotland should commit to.
The question then arises whether public opinion can keep pace with such diplomatic necessities. Scotland could be less antagonistic diplomatically, but still be home to a people uneasy with the idea of further integration. Supporters of Scottish independence often look to Scandinavia as a model, and Scotland may find it fits into the varying degrees of membership and cooperation with European organizations. Norway, for instance, is part of NATO and the Schengen area, outside the EU but deeply bound by it; Sweden stands outside NATO, but is part of the EU, while not using the euro, but required to join eventually; Finland, outside NATO, is a member of both the EU and the euro. Scotland could take an approach similar to Denmark, a country outside the euro area but deeply connected with the EU, with mainstream political parties strongly pro-European and popular support lukewarm.
However, Edinburgh might also be drawn back to a UK approach of seeking opt-outs, especially if the remaining UK stays in the EU on the basis of a new relationship that grants it more exemptions. Scotland might, like some other EU member states have done in the past, hide its own unease about the EU behind London’s willingness to veto or say no to EU proposals.
Too often we have heard politicians from the UK promising to put their country at the heart of Europe only then to see them failing to do so. Salmond’s commitment to the heart will be popular with those who think that in Scotland they have found the pro-European part of the UK. But we should be careful not to project onto Scotland expectations and hopes borne of frustration with the UK. Equally we should be careful not to predict the policies of an independent Scotland based entirely on its current place in the UK.
The rest of the EU should also remember they will play their part in shaping Scotland’s attitude. A difficult membership process would poison relations. An independent Scotland will, like all other states – including the UK – play an active role in Europe. But as with other states, there will be distinct limits to this. Scotland’s limits couldreinforce of the idea of a multispeed Europe, one where Scotland positions itself in one of the slower lanes, even if it is slightly faster lane than that chosen by the remaining UK.