Posts Tagged ‘Featured’

Long read | Brexit is an English problem

Brexit is driven less by contextual and conjunctural factors than by history and structure, writes Hudson Meadwell (McGill University). It is not the short-term dynamics of the referendum campaign or the machinations of pre- and post-referendum party politics, or the current state of public opinion that need to be accounted for in understanding Brexit, both as event and process in British and UK politics. Rather, we should start elsewhere by examining foundational features of twentieth-century British politics. Brexit is an English problem, yet the foundations of British politics expose all of the UK to the risks and uncertainties of England’s historical ambivalence toward, and more recently, its rejection of European integration. The national structure of Britain and the UK, and the political organisation and expression of that structure, are the keys to understanding Brexit.

There are three basic features of British politics that account for Brexit: English political dominance, a largely unwritten constitution (which does take into account relatively recent changes that have codified certain constitutional features) and party politics. The first feature is fundamental and shapes the other two.

Only Human by Martin Parr, National Portrait Gallery, London. Image by @RochDW

English Domination

England politically dominates all other nations in the UK. Its 2015 electorate was five times all others combined (Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland). The House of Commons is English-dominated with almost five times the number of constituencies of other nations combined. To win a majority government, a party need only win roughly 60% of seats in England, even if all other seats in other nations are won by another or other parties.

There are no significant political counterweights to English political dominance. The ‘unwritten constitution’ does not correct for this dominance but simply expresses and reinforces it. Political powers and competences are not divided or shared territorially but are merely ‘de-concentrated’ or devolved. The recent histories of the Scottish and Welsh ‘parliaments’ support this observation, as does the history of Stormont, post-Home Rule (1920) through the formation of the Irish Free State up to the current operations of Stormont, post-Good Friday Agreement. All exist at the discretion of Westminster rather than constitutionally. England does not have its own national assembly as do Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh. Its domination of Parliament makes an English assembly redundant. Moreover, upper parliament – the House of Lords – is no counterweight to English political dominance. English dominance also organises the incentive structures of the two major parties. The Conservative party currently has roughly 3 English MPs for every 2 Labour English MPS and both Conservative and Labour MPs are dominated by English MPs: 292/313 and 211/246 respectively.

The referendum was predominantly an English question. It was forced by a party that was increasingly English-centric, and whose leaders were responding to challenges from factions inside their party and from UKIP and more recently the Brexit Party. UKIP and the Brexit Party are almost exclusively an English electoral phenomenon. Turnout for the referendum was highest in England as was, of course, support for leaving the EU. The referendum results show significant, unsurprising national differences. They also show the contemporary vacuity of British identity, which seems to have had historical resonance primarily as an imperial identity. As a post-imperial identity, however, ‘British’ has lost meaning and is now (if not always has been) code for English dominance. Northern Ireland is Irish and not British. Scotland is not British. ‘Britain’ has been reduced to England and Wales.

Brexit may hasten Irish unification and Scottish separation. These are the limits of English dominance. Brexit may spell the end of English dominance of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Here is a thought experiment that perhaps helps to show the dilemma: Suppose at some point well prior to Brexit (but post British entry into the EEC/EU), England had negotiated changes to the political structures of Britain that recognized other nations in a written constitution that divided and shared power among them. Perhaps at the same time, the House of Lords would have been refashioned. Clearly, by definition, such changes would have diluted English dominance. England then could not as easily have dominated the political agenda, and an English-centric push to call a referendum on EU membership would likely not have emerged at all, all else equal. And it is hard to imagine, in my view, that such a call would have emerged from Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, if they were constitutionally empowered in some way to express voice on issues as vital as membership. Playing this out a little further, an omniscient planner with an interest in keeping English options open on the question of economic and political integration, so that his future degrees of freedom on this question are relatively unfettered, is not likely to want to give up English dominance. Why divide or share power if it would threaten these future degrees of freedom?

Hence, if England wants out of the EU in order to escape EU-domination, it is unlikely going to be able to continue to dominate the UK, or the UK it does dominate will not be the UK we know. The Irish and the Scots will leave or they will negotiate a constitutional agreement that shares and divides power and that dilutes English dominance.

Negotiation and Ratification

Post-referendum political dynamics have been organised around two processes: EU-UK negotiations and British ratification of negotiation results in the House of Commons. In turn, these processes have had two consequences: they reveal the superior bargaining position of the EU and they have added structure to the choice sets facing the British. English dominance plays a role in each of these consequences. Negotiations reveal the superior bargaining position of the EU. Some rough backward induction should reveal that the EU also had the superior bargaining position in the pre-referendum negotiations between Cameron and the EU. The UK did not enter the latter negotiations as a status-quo oriented party. Rather Cameron was publicly demanding changes to the UK-EU status quo. His private preference (both personal and his preferred position for the Conservative Party) may have been to maintain EU membership but his public posturing was revisionist.

The negotiations reveal the boundaries of the politically feasible for Britain. The relationship between bilateral British-EU negotiations and British ratification suggests that it is the EU that now has de facto agenda-setting power, not only in negotiations but in the ratification process in Parliament. That agenda-setting power has effectively forced the divisions in the Conservative party to be fully expressed and in so doing has fractured the last two governments. The negotiations thus ironically confirm the substance of the Yes vote: The EU constrains the UK Parliament.

Yet this is not accurately framed as a problem of the indivisibility of parliamentary ‘sovereignty’. Parliamentary sovereignty masks the hard fact of English political dominance and is marshalled in political rhetoric to protect that dominance. The EU is not challenging British parliamentary sovereignty; rather, the EU is a challenge to English political dominance. The price of having freely entered the EU via negotiations and a voluntary referendum is that Britain and its Parliament are now not free to leave via a referendum only. There is no legal right or practical option of unilateral withdrawal, once having joined. Once again though, this is not to suggest that British political ‘sovereignty’ has been violated either at point of entry or in the current negotiations. Rather, this is a question of whether contracts to which Britain is a corporate party are complete contracts or not. The notion that something called ‘sovereignty’ is threatened or has been violated is a political frame rather than a supportable argument. The post-referendum negotiations, however, do suggest that there is some symmetry in the exercise of EU power. The EU appears to be most powerful vis à vis individual members at the point of hypothetical entry (conditionality) and hypothetical exit. If this is true for Britain, it should hold, by virtue of monotonicity, for those members who are more fully integrated, eg. in the Euro-zone. All else equal, fuller integration should imply higher exit costs (both transaction and transition costs).

The EU will be able to force the hand of supporters of a no deal Brexit.  Negotiations did not break down. Rather, to this point in mid-June 2019, they have failed to be ratified by one of the parties. Johnson’s claim that Britain can leave without paying any transition costs related to benefits accrued from its access to EU programs, which have been priced and agreed to in the negotiations, and hold back payments to the EU until a better deal is reached is not a credible threat or bargaining position. The no deal option is not a no deal option at all. Instead, it merely implies a deal that is different than the current one agreed to in negotiations, namely one in which the EU agrees to lower the agreed costs of exit, holding everything else agreed to constant. In effect, what is implied in Johnson’s position is a trade-off in which there is (effectively) financial compensation provided to Britain, in the form of a lower bill, in exchange for British acceptance of other provisions. This is perverse. Indeed, in order to secure better terms with regard to access, mobility or borders, Britain should expect to pay more. It is the EU that has the superior bargaining position.

There will be a deal with the EU, there is not a no deal option. Then one question is whether Britain’s formal withdrawal from the EU, without ratification, would increase its bargaining position vis à vis the EU so that British leadership could negotiate a better deal after withdrawal than the one currently on offer. If the answer to this question is positive, then it should be possible to show concretely how formal withdrawal provides more leverage. Does formal withdrawal make it more likely that the EU will agree to changes demanded by Britain? I don’t think so. Bargaining over the financial bill after withdrawal will only change the outcome if Britain can credibly commit to walking away altogether from paying its bill. But then, of course, it is left with nothing – no access of any kind to EU markets in essentially all commodities and services, zero mobility, a hard Irish border and no interim backstop. The EU will not improve the terms of its offer in order to induce Britain to pay some of its bills. And, in my view, the EU can more credibly threaten to pursue the charges owed it in the event that Britain reneges than Britain can threaten to renege.

The EU status quo without UK membership would look recognizably like the status quo ante when Britain was a member. The UK status quo, particularly in the event of a no deal exit but also under other scenarios, is not as easy to imagine, particularly in the short and medium term. The transition costs are far higher for Britain than for the EU. The national structure of Britain and the UK means that its territorial integrity will likely be challenged in the transition out of the EU, ultimately because its boundaries are maintained through English dominance. While others such as Wolfgang Streeck think the EU is a liberal empire organized around German hegemony and anticipate its failure, I don’t see a similar challenge to the integrity of the EU in the transition, in part because relations of national and territorial domination do not appear to be as important within the EU, compared to Britain, and because there is some meaningful power-sharing within it. Certainly, there has been far more coordination, coherence and unity on the EU side than the British side through the negotiating and ratification processes. These differences in transition costs would account for some of the bargaining advantage of the EU.

Negotiations and the public framing of the negotiations also have provided more structure to political choice, and the increase in structure reveals some aspects of the distribution of costs and benefits of alternatives within the EU-British multi-dimensional bargaining space. The referendum vote was structured as a binary choice between continued membership — the pre-referendum status quo negotiated by Cameron (call it SQNB) or exit, the negation of the status quo (Ø SQNB). Post-referendum, the structure and choice set are more elaborate: SQNB remains as a possible reference point, and its negation (Ø SQNB) is now elaborated as Hard Brexit (HB), Soft Brexit (SB), or No Deal Brexit (NDB). The post-referendum choice set then is {SQNB, HB, SB, NDB}. SB, HB, NDB vary according to access to markets, mobility and borders, primarily.

The current contest (circa mid-June 2019) for the Conservative party leadership shows the reality of this structure with candidates staking out positions, eg. Johnson as a NDB candidate, others are committing to a deal (versions of HB or SB) but not the deal offered by May. Through the negotiations that the referendum has initiated, information has been revealed about bargaining positions and the structure of political choice. Yet beyond these matters, in terms of more fundamental features of British politics, Brexit shows the enduring importance of English political dominance in Britain and the UK.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE.

Hudson Meadwell is Associate Professor of Political Science at McGill University.

[1] {Glossary: SB Soft Brexit, HB Hard Brexit, NDB No Deal Brexit, SQNB Status Quo No Brexit (the settlement negotiated by Cameron pre-referendum)}.

British democracy and the power of the military: too much or too little?

Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the escalation of Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan in 2006, the British military have gone from being highly popular to spectacularly popular. This has been achieved in spite of the widespread perception that the two wars were failures. Why, then, has the military become so popular and does this represent a threat to British democracy? Paul Dixon explains.

In the Hansard Society’s 2019 ‘Audit of Political Engagement’, the military topped the survey suggesting that 74% of public opinion had most confidence in the military/armed forces to act in the best interests of the public. 32% had complete confidence and 42% a ‘fair amount of confidence’. By contrast, just 29-34% had confidence in political actors.

The military has always been one of the UK’s most respected institutions, alongside the NHS and the BBC. There was a dip in popularity after the invasion of Iraq. Since 2005, ‘favourable’ opinions of the armed forces have gone from a low of 54% in 2005 to 88% in 2017. Most significantly, those having a ‘very favourable’ impression have gone from 14% to 61%.

Public sympathy for the military is important because it can constrain the extent to which politicians are able to control the armed forces.

The Militarisation Offensive 2006

On 12 October 2006, General Dannatt, head of the British Army, broke constitutional convention and publicly attacked the Labour government. In an interview for the Daily Mail, Dannatt argued that Britain should withdraw from Iraq and claimed that the government and nation had broken the ‘Military Covenant’. This was the opening shot of a ‘Militarisation Offensive’ to extend the power of the armed forces.

The Covenant, some claimed, dated back to the days of the Duke of Wellington, or was as old as soldiering itself. In reality, the Covenant was invented by the army in 2000. After Dannatt’s interview, however, the concept took off and was referenced in the Armed Services Act 2011.

The Military Covenant was so vague it could be endorsed by right-wing militarists and left-wing anti-imperialists. Right wing militarists saw the Covenant as a way of extending militarisation and creating special privileges for the military that might generate public support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bolster recruitment. Left-wing anti-imperialists could support the Covenant as a way of achieving fair treatment for working class soldiers who were victims of imperialist wars.

The ‘Militarisation Offensive’ was galvanised by ‘Moral Panic’. The right-wing press attempted to generate further support for the military and the wars they were fighting by highlighting, exaggerating or even inventing allegations of discrimination against or insults to military personnel. A ‘Report of Inquiry into National Recognition of Our Armed Forces’ (2008) found very few ‘unpleasant incidents’ of discrimination against the armed forces.

Stab in the back?

The military elite’s power and popularity have been achieved by blaming politicians for failure in Iraq and Afghanistan and claiming that the military ‘stabbed them in the back’. The ‘dominant military narrative’ blames the politicians for over-stretching the military by fighting two wars, the ‘bad’ war in Iraq and the ‘good’ war in Afghanistan. The politicians lacked the will and determination to rally domestic public opinion by putting the country on a ‘war footing’. The military were left with a shortage of equipment, inadequate troops numbers, and without clear political leadership.

In Afghanistan the military constantly claimed that they were ‘learning, adapting and winning’. By 2009-11 the counterinsurgency strategy and ‘surge’ was winning the war just at the moment the politicians decided to withdraw from combat. The implication is that the power of the military should be increased so that in the future, it has greater resources and control over the conduct of war.

The power of the Generals

The ‘Dominant Military Narrative’ is problematic. There is growing evidence, particularly from The Chilcot Report (2016), of the military’s responsibility for failure in Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem is not that the military elite lack power, but that they have too much power to shape policy.

The Chilcot Report suggested that it was the military, and particularly the army, that pushed for maximum British involvement in the invasion of Iraq. The size and composition of the UK military contribution to the invasion was ‘largely discretionary’. The British military used their connections with the US military to get the US President to put pressure on Prime Minister Tony Blair for a strong contribution to the invasion. The President would have been satisfied by a limited British military contribution to the invasion. But the army would have been left out of such a force and so lobbied for a maximum deployment that involved about 46,000 British service personnel.

The British military elite sought the mission to Helmand in Afghanistan, in 2006, as redemption for failure in Southern Iraq. They reassured the politicians that they could simultaneously fight two wars. The ‘high risk’ assumption was made that as the troops drew down from Iraq they would be re-deployed to Afghanistan. The Helmand mission was sold to the politicians and the public as ‘peacekeeping’. There is some evidence, however, that intelligence was withheld from politicians about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan for fear it would jeopardise the deployment. Soon after troops went in the army changed the mission from peacekeeping to war-fighting. Some claim that this had always been the intention of the military. The change of mission led to some of the most severe fighting since the Korean War.

The military were overstretched and in crisis. In September 2006, General Dannatt stated that the military was ‘running hot’ and could only “just” cope.

Politicians in Power?

General Dannatt’s attack in the Daily Mailwas trumping the government and setting strategy’. In public, Tony Blair announced that “he agreed with every word” of Dannatt’s interview. In private, the Prime Minister considered sacking him but, with good reason, feared an adverse public reaction. An ICM opinion poll for the Sunday Express suggested that 71% of the British people believed Dannatt should not be sacked for saying that the British presence in Iraq was making the security situation there worse.

Gordon Brown recounts in My Life, Our Times his struggle with the military. A militarist alliance – comprising some in the media, the Conservative opposition, and groups in civil society – was putting intense pressure on the Prime Minister. When the Chief of Defence Staff asked for an additional 500 troops, Brown wanted a public guarantee ‘that each of them was properly equipped for the tasks ahead’. Brown, criticised Dannatt for crossing a line by publicly identifying with the Conservative Party. He quotes a constitutional expert, ‘To abandon the principle of a non-political army would be a catastrophe’.

The Conservative Opposition had allied with the military to attack the Labour government. In government, however, Prime Minister David Cameron also struggled with the power of the military. He claimed that he had been alarmed at the way the Army chiefs ran rings around Gordon Brown, colluding with The Sun to whip up support for the troops ‘to gain financial leverage for more equipment and more men’.

There was tension between Cameron and the Chief of Defence Staff, David Richards, because Cameron felt Richards was briefing the media and preparing to blame him in the event of failure in Libya. In June 2011 the Prime Minister responded to public pressure from the military: ‘I tell you what, you do the fighting and I’ll do the talking’.

In 2015 the military, after intense pressure, won the Conservative government’s pledge to commit 2% GDP to defence spending. Remarkably, the Corbyn-led Labour party embraced the 2% target in its general election manifesto in 2017.

There is emerging evidence, most notably from The Chilcot Report, that the military manoeuvred to achieve maximum Yet the legacy of the Iraq and Afghan wars has been a spectacular increase in the popularity and confidence in the military. This has been in spite of growing evidence that it was the military elite that were responsible for overstretch and the military crisis. War was good for the military organisation and this creates further incentives to embark on future unwinnable wars.


Note: the above draws on the author’s published work in Parliamentary Affairs.

About the Author

Paul Dixon is Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is the author of Warrior Nation: War, Militarisation and British Democracy (2018) and Performing the Northern Ireland Peace Process: In Defence of Politics (2018). He is working on a book on the Iraq and Afghan wars.



All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

Feeling vulnerable and unwelcome: the impact of Brexit on EU nationals

Brexit has left EU nationals feeling vulnerable and sometimes unwelcome in the UK. Sara Benedi Lahuerta and Ingi Iusmen (University of Southampton) carried out research among Polish nationals in Southampton, who explained how an increasingly hostile climate has affected them.

Recent evidence shows that anti-immigration and xenophobic attitudes in the UK reached a peak during the Brexit referendum campaign and shortly after the Brexit vote. Racism and discriminatory incidents have become normalised as a result. The findings of our empirical project – using mixed methods and focusing on Polish nationals in Southampton – demonstrate that the referendum campaign and vote led to significant changes in the vulnerability of EU nationals in the UK.

southampton container terminal

Southampton Container Terminal. Photo: Nigel Brown via a CC BY 2.0 licence

We found not only changes in objective vulnerability (i.e. linked to external events such as hate incidents or discrimination explicitly based on the individual’s national origin), but also changes in subjective vulnerability (i.e. individuals’ feelings of anxiety, fear and insecurity due to the worries about experiencing racially-motivated hate incidents or institutional discrimination). Our data illustrates the increase in the vulnerability experienced by Polish nationals after the referendum, compared to the period before it. While our analysis is based on the case study of the Polish community in Southampton, related research and data suggest that these experiences may be representative of a large proportion of EU nationals residing in the UK.

Discriminatory attitudes and incidents involving EU nationals were already apparent before the referendum. First, state policies permitting institutional discrimination created obstacles for EU nationals trying to exercise their free movement and social rights. For instance, Home Office migration policies in the 2000s differentiated between various groups of EU nationals according to their alleged desirability, with A2 nationals (Romanians and Bulgarians) subject to stricter migration controls. Second, media discourse blamed EU migrants for economic and social problems. For instance, it portrayed EU migrants as responsible for higher levels of crime, as a social and economic threat and the cause of unemployment and housing shortages, as a strain on social and public services, and as triggering a race to the bottom regarding low-skilled jobs. This rhetoric was embraced by both far-right parties such as UKIP and to a certain extent by mainstream parties. These factors legitimised an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality among Britons, and paved the way for discriminatory and hate crime incidents even before the referendum.

Our study shows that the referendum and its aftermath triggered heightened subjective vulnerability among Poles (and probably more widely among EU nationals) in at least four ways. First, the objective vulnerability experienced by Polish nationals increased, due to the surge in hate incidents. Our findings mirror the general post-Brexit trends that indicate a rise in hate-based and prejudice-driven incidents. Polish nationals in Southampton experienced verbal abuse, with frequent references to ‘going back to their country’, incidents in schools (where Polish children were bullied by their British classmates), smashing of Polish shop windows and name-calling.

Second, Polish nationals reported a heightened sense of being different, which contributed to fear and anxiety (subjective vulnerability) in anticipation of the mere possibility of being treated differently following the Brexit vote. For instance, Poles reported feeling much more self-conscious about things that would identify them as a migrant post-referendum. Some noted being uncomfortable about speaking Polish, having an accent or poor English, and even avoiding Polish shops and not engaging with the Polish community for fear of having the ‘migrant tag’ applied to them, even if they had never personally suffered any discrimination or hate incidents.

Third, Poles are increasingly feeling unwelcome. The migration-centred media and public discourse that dominated the referendum campaign means that many Poles perceive that the general atmosphere has changed, and that broader society has become more hostile towards them. Strong anti-migrant rhetoric in the referendum campaign and the understanding that the result somehow legitimised it left many Poles feeling collectively prejudiced and judged by the very fact of the Brexit result. Our survey participants explained:

‘After the referendum and the decision to leave the EU, I started to feel unwelcome and that I am worse than British people, because of my foreign origin’.

‘The most profound change [between 2014-15 and 2016-17] has been in the public discourse of the presence of Eastern Europeans in the UK which changed from positive to very negative; it did not affect me directly but made me feel less welcome. I also felt like I was being judged by the general public as if there was a suspicion I had done something wrong (topic of benefit abuse, drug abuse, inability to integrate, etc.)’

‘I think that other people’s attitude towards me has not changed but because of the new political and social atmosphere, the perception of being welcomed has changed.’

Finally, a key contributing factor to Poles’ subjective vulnerability is the uncertainty about their future legal status, including their right to reside in the UK and their entitlement to access social rights post-Brexit. This uncertainty led to a significant increase in the number of Polish nationals who considered returning to Poland shortly after the referendum.

Indeed, there has been little clarity regarding the documents and evidence required by EU nationals when applying for ‘settled status’ post-Brexit, and they have often encountered problems due to the ‘hostile environment’ characterising Home Office dealings with immigrants more generally. This uncertainty about administrative and legal status, along with the realisation that belonging is suddenly contingent, has contributed to the fear and anxiety (i.e. subjective vulnerability) experienced by EU nationals, including Poles.

Our evidence shows that the referendum has not only worsened the pre-existing ‘hostile environment’ experienced by EU nationals, but has also created a socio-political environment where Britons feel more entitled to express xenophobic views against EU nationals, leading the latter to feel unwelcome and to fear that their national origin, foreign names or accent may now start to be an aggravating problem in their dealings with UK institutions and in social interactions, both in the private and public sphere. Under the Equality Act 2010 (section 149) public authorities have a general equality duty to have due regard to the need to ‘eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation’ and ‘foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not’ (under the Act, ‘race’ is a protected characteristic, which includes national origin and nationality). However, they have so far done little to address the higher levels of xenophobic behaviours towards EU nationals, their heightened sense of vulnerability and the deep cleavage between ‘us’ (Britons) and ‘them’ (foreigners) that has been increasingly dividing the British society since the referendum. While some voluntary initiatives like the Existential Academy have provided psychological and emotional support to EU nationals, local and central authorities have so far done little to address this heightened sense of subjective vulnerability.

This post represents the views of the authors and not those of the Brexit blog, nor LSE.

Sara Benedi Lahuerta is a Lecturer in Employment Law and Director of the Stefan Cross Centre for Women, Equality and Law at the University of Southampton.

Ingi Iusmen is a Lecturer in Governance and Policy within Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton.

Global Britain? Replacing the EU with the Commonwealth is fanciful

Replacing participation in the European Union with enhanced cooperation at the Commonwealth is not a viable option for the United Kingdom, writes Rishi Gulati (LSE). It is a triumph of hope over reality. This much is made clear by a leaked document from the Commonwealth reported on by the BBC on 13 June 2019 demonstrating that the institution needs significant and systemic reforms which I argue are almost impossible to implement in the near future.

On 11 March 2018, Britain’s likely future Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in an article titled ‘Commonwealth has key role to play in the bright future for Brexit Britain’, wrote:

As Her Majesty and Prince Philip drove from Entebbe Airport to the capital, Kampala, they were greeted by cheering crowds lining every inch of the 20-mile route. I cannot imagine any head of state except the Queen – or any international organisation except the Commonwealth – stirring such popular enthusiasm…As we celebrate Commonwealth Day tomorrow, the Commonwealth’s 53 members comprise a third of humanity. Of those 2.4 billion people spread across six continents, 60 per cent are under the age of 30. They are joined with us by ties of history and friendship and the English language. They share our values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. And our natural affinity finds its expression through the institution of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth is, of course, an important institution and ought to be strengthened. However, for trade deals to be concluded, security cooperation to be strengthened, and other global challenges such as climate change to be combatted successfully, one needs more than cheering crowds. What is needed is distinguishing between tabloid-emotion and the real action that needs to be taken by states to achieve those objectives by cooperating with each other. One of the established ways to enable such international cooperation is through international organisations. The European Union (a supranational institution) is just one example of the more than roughly 400 international organisations that exist today.

A somewhat lesser known international institution is The Commonwealth. The Commonwealth consists of 53 member states mostly comprising of former British colonies that are at various stages of development. Its roots thus go back to the British Empire. It is headquartered in London performing its work through the Commonwealth Secretariat which was created in 1965.

The idea of replacing participation in the EU with the Commonwealth has two possible dimensions: an economic and an institutional dimension. Other commentators have already noted that the economic case for replacing the EU with the Commonwealth simply does not exist.

The project of expanding trade with the Commonwealth is not an irrational or ignoble one. But the belief that this can compensate for frayed links with Europe is a delusion. The government’s own analysis suggests that the UK would lose between 2 per cent and 8 per cent of GDP over 15 years from a “hard Brexit” (withdrawal from the single market and the customs union), while new trade deals with the US and others would add no more than 0.6 per cent.

One should have similar doubts as to the institutional case for replacing participation in the EU with the Commonwealth. There are in fact such institutional deficiencies prevailing at the Commonwealth that it is incapable of replacing the EU as a viable institution to secure deep and meaningful international cooperation. To start with, the aim of the institution is a modest one. According to the Commonwealth’s constituent instrument – The Revised Agreed Memorandum on the establishment and functions of the Commonwealth Secretariat 2005, it is an institution merely intended to play ‘a constructive role…At the same time it should operate initially on a modest footing; and its staff and functions should be left to expand pragmatically in the light of experience, subject always to the approval of Governments’ (Article 7).

What is more, compared to several other institutions, the Commonwealth’s constituent instruments lack specificity. The organisation pursues broad goals with modest resources and limited powers. The broadly framed priority areas pursued by the Commonwealth currently include: Economic, Youth and Sustainable Development; Governance and Peace; and Trade, Oceans and Natural Resources.

Crucially, to achieve its objectives, the institution of the Commonwealth must work efficiently, effectively and in an accountable manner. This, however, does not seem to be the case. Alarmingly, on 13 June 2019, a BBC report noted that: ‘The Commonwealth Secretariat, the body that manages the international organisation in London, is in “urgent need” of reform, according to a leaked internal report obtained by the BBC.’ Serious policy, legal, financial and operational challenges exist for the Commonwealth – as the report went on to note:

there are “deep concerns” about the governance structures of the secretariat which “lacks clarity” in its priorities and needs to be “more transparent and accountable”…Some diplomats have also argued for an independent inquiry into the financial and reputational implications of two recent employment tribunals – one involving Lady Scotland’s deputy – that the secretariat lost and could result in legal bills of more than £1m…

Whe heads of government elected Lady Scotland in 2015, they instructed her to review the way the secretariat was being run. Three years later, she established a so-called ‘high level group’ of mostly former Commonwealth foreign ministers whose report last autumn was never published. It concluded there was “an urgent need” for the governance structure of the secretariat to be reformed”; there is a serious and urgent need to place the funding of the secretariat on a more stable and predictable footing” – In recent years, some member states have been less willing to give the organisation money. Its core budget has now sunk to just £32m, down from £52m in 2012/13. Such are the financial pressures that the secretariat has decided to break the lease on a building it rents in Pall Mall called “Commonwealth House” that was opened by the Queen only in 2016.

If the Commonwealth is to achieve its aims, not only urgent reforms to the Commonwealth’s governance framework need to be made, including a very significant boost in funding, but consideration needs to be given to enhance the Commonwealth’s mandate which is currently broad and vague. However, it should be noted that implementing substantive reforms to international organisations generally, and the Commonwealth specifically is almost an impossible task in the current environment where international institutions (including the EU and WTO) have come under sustained attack.

In addition to the above institutional shortcomings in the Commonwealth’s governance, there are further structural issues challenging the efficiency of the organisation. One of the thorny issues is the transformed power balance amongst the Commonwealth states. This includes especially the rise of India. Further, some very significant tensions between certain member states of the Commonwealth exist. For example, there is tension between India and Pakistan (which has led to several international armed conflicts), and between the UK and Mauritius (see the Chagos Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice where it concluded that ‘the process of decolonization of Mauritius was not lawfully completed when that country acceded to independence’ and that ‘the United Kingdom is under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible’ also see a recent UN General Assembly Resolution demanding that the United Kingdom unconditionally withdraw its colonial administration from the area within six months). This makes it improbable that the Commonwealth as an institution will be able to achieve the kind of consensus building and cooperation required amongst member states to effectively and comprehensively pursue its agenda.

The idea that securing effective and meaningful state-to-state cooperation through the Commonwealth will fully or partially substitute the kind of cooperation secured through the relatively robust institutions of the European Union is a triumph of hope over reality. The BBC report of 13 June 2019 only goes to show that that the Commonwealth may not be the vehicle that the UK can charter anytime in the near future to become the outward-looking global Britain that many want it to be. A future where the Commonwealth is proposed as a realistic substitute to the EU is a venture into the great unknown. Crucially though, the assumption that deeper engagement with the Commonwealth and remaining in the EU are mutually exclusive things is completely wrong. Both those institutions play their own particular roles, having distinct functions, and have significantly different membership, with the Commonwealth only having three European states including the United Kingdom as its member. One can walk and chew gum at the same time.

This post represents the views of the author and not the Brexit blog, nor the LSE. Image by the FCOSome rights reserved.

Dr Rishi Gulati is LSE Fellow in Law, and a Barrister, Victorian Bar. 

Right-wing populists threaten business interests in liberal democracies

Right-wing populism is transforming the relationship between business and politics in capitalist democracies. “F*ck business” – Boris Johnson’s remark makes bluntly clear that the era when business and big banks were said to run the world is over. With the advent of Brexit and Trump, interest in populism has surged, but relatively little is known about how businesses are navigating populist politics, writes Daniel Kinderman (University of Delaware).

Right-wing populists threaten business interests in several ways. Protectionism and new trade barriers increase costs and reduce market access for many firms; restrictions on immigration reduce the supply of both unskilled and skilled workers; and the policy agenda of the populist right is often shrouded in uncertainty, which makes planning and investments difficult and risky for business.

While it is difficult to get detailed information on the political views of individual members of the business elite, business associations offer a promising path forward. These associations represent a large concentration of firms, capital, employees, and political power, and they give business its main political voice in virtually all countries. It matters what business associations say and what positions they take. The consequences of business support for right-wing populists should not be underestimated. As the examples of Brexit and Trump have shown, business opposition does not condemn populists to defeat at the polls, but business opposition can make it harder for populists to exercise political power. What does business mobilization in response to right-wing populism look like?

Fearing that the European Parliament could be taken over and paralyzed by Eurosceptics, the EU-level business association BusinessEurope campaigned for the EU in the run-up to the 2019 European Parliament elections. The French business association MEDEF played a leading role with its Merci l’Europe ! campaign, and Bernard Spitz, President of the French Insurance Federation FFA and of the European Committee at MEDEF, published a book with the same title to counter populist lies. Although this engagement did not prevent Marine Le Pen’s National Rally from getting the largest vote share in the French European Parliament elections, it is possible that these efforts helped boost voter turnout and prevented the populists from doing even better.

In Germany, the shock of Brexit and Trump was particularly deep, and it prompted one observer to ask: “Where are the top managers and entrepreneurs, the presidents of business associations and union leaders, who have strong arguments for globalization, openness and European integration? Why does hardly anyone fight for an order which forms the basis for the success of the German economy, as well as for the self-understanding of this country?” In early 2017, for the first time in their history, two German business associations overcame collective action problems and launched dedicated campaigns to defend democracy and the European and global market order against the populist right.

The machine-tool association VDMA launched #europeworks and the Business Association of Industrial Enterprises Baden WVIB in the South West of Germany launched the “Einigkeit.Recht.Freiheit.” campaign. Although these initiatives developed independently of each other, both seek to shift public opinion and mobilize employees and voters to oppose the AfD and support the EU, liberal democracy, and the European and global free market order.

In early 2017, the VDMA’s member companies demanded that the VDMA take a stand. Holger Kunze, the Director of the VDMA’s Europe office, exclaimed: “The danger that Europe will break apart is real! Brexit was the turning point or sea change, the moment when many people realized: Europe can’t be taken for granted anymore!” I queried whether a campaign like #europeworks would have been imaginable before, and Kunze replied: “absolutely not. The stress and level of suffering [Leidensdruck] was not so high back then. Now the problems had a different quality. We started deep into the abyss” (interview, 2017). “We must defend the EU against the new nationalism because it is dangerous for society and for prosperity,” stated Thilo Brodtmann, VDMA’s chief executive.

The VDMA’s strong support of the EU reflects the importance of European markets for the German machine tool industry. Both VDMA President Carl Martin Welcker and Norbert Basler, who the VDMA’s vice-president until recently, also stress the need to reduce inequality and bring those who feel ‘left behind’ back on board in order to take the wind out of the sails of populism. Basler stresses that education is the “most effective means to solve the problem in the long run” (interview, 2017) – which is precisely what some leading scholars recommend.

Just ten days after Trump’s election win, WVIB chairman Klaus Endress addressed his member companies in a speech he gave at the association’s annual general meeting. He stated that “The world has been in disorder for some time. This disorder comes – as everyone now acknowledges – from populists, their followers, and the social developments that enable populism.” As a result, he stated that “Europe is under pressure like never before” and that the “ideational foundations of the VWIB members’ economic success are in danger!” The gravity of the situation was clear: “Populism has nothing in common with our values. 2016 was bad. What will 2017, the year of the Bundestagswahl, bring?” Endress stressed the need to defend values of the Enlightenment, humanism, tolerance, and democracy.

This talk had great resonance and spurred the association into action. WVIB managing director Christoph Münzer recalls that in early 2017, “with the upcoming elections in the Netherlands and France, and with the AfD in Germany, it was a very open situation.” Endress recognized the urgency of the situation and said: “do something! let’s do something about this!” The result was the first political campaign in the history of the organization, one that sought to dissuade both members of the public and employees of WVIB companies from voting for the AfD in the run-up to the 2017 Bundestag election. “It was a huge effort for us” (interview, 2018). In Endress’s own words, “The politicians aren’t managing [die schaffen das nicht] – we’ve got to support them!” (interview, 2018).

My German business association interviewees stress the need to reform and democratise the EU in order to defend globalisation from globalisation backlash and the threat of resurgent nationalism. They also stress the plight of those who feel that they have been ‘left behind.’ At least on the face of it, segments of German business may be open to a new, more redistributive social compromise to preserve the open international economic order while preserving domestic stability – much as Ruggie described in his work on “embedded liberalism.” This resonates with recent scholarship which points to populism as a problem of “subjective social status” and provides an interesting contrast to the United States, where, as a recent book has shown, employer mobilization has often tended to be illiberal, coercive, and regressive. Economic self-interest is, of course, a powerful driver of business mobilization. I argue that the perception of vulnerability by small, export-dependent companies spurred these two German associations to engage in collective action. In contrast to large companies, these small firms do not have their own government relations people and lobbyists – they rely on associations bundle up and combine their voices.

Not in all countries do business associations respond as they did in the aforementioned French and German cases; business responses to the populist right vary across time and space. I hypothesize that business associations’ responses are shaped at least in part by the strategic context. The intensity of business opposition will be inversely related to populists’ prospects for gaining political power: where the populists are marginalized and have remote prospects for gaining political power, business associations will feel comfortable denouncing them. Quite the opposite is the case if right-wing populists have captured political power or are close to doing so. The greater the political power of the populist right, the more muted the business opposition. To draw on the metaphors Machiavelli used in The Prince, business associations will behave more like lions towards right-wing populists when the latter are politically marginalized. As right-wing populists’ political strength grows, business associations will behave more like foxes.

Overall, I expect that business associations that have the most to lose from a possible collapse of the liberal market order will be the most ardently engaged against the populist right. By contrast, in their recent book two prominent scholars argue that those benefitting from the knowledge economy support advanced capitalism and oppose populism. The empirical support for their claim is mixed. On one hand, the “Merci l’Europe” campaign was the personal idea of tech entrepreneur Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, the newly elected president of MEDEF. On the other hand, the VDMA and WVIB campaigns can better be understood as attempts of the German export-oriented manufacturing sector to preserve the open international economic order upon which they depend.

In conclusion, the rise of the populist right has made the relationship between business and politics more complicated and conflictual than it was in the neoliberal era. One thing is sure: more research is needed on European business responses to the populist right.

This post represents the views of the author and not the Brexit blog, nor the LSE. 

Daniel P Kinderman is Director of European Studies and Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of Delaware.

The Brexit Prime Minister? Assessing Theresa May’s legacy

Theresay May’s real legacy is that her premiership exacerbated the political divides behind the ongoing breakdown of the Conservative-Labour duopoly of the party system, write Christopher Byrne, Nick Randall, and Kevin Theakston.

The political obituaries that followed Theresa May’s decision to step down as Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party were not kind. The Timesassessment was that her premiership had become a ‘humiliating failure… that was largely her own fault.’ ITV, reflecting the view of most other media outlets, described a legacy ‘defined by Brexit chaos.’ Private Eye went one better, leaving their front page blank except for the headline, ‘The Prime Minister’s Legacy in Full.’

One way of explaining the ‘Brexit chaos’ of the past several years is to ascribe it to May’s failings as a political leader. This is not hard to do. Her detractors will point to her poor handling of the Brexit negotiations and her fateful decision to hold a snap general election in June of 2017 as her two major missteps. They might ascribe difficulties in the Brexit process to the fact that May, who campaigned for Remain in the EU referendum, felt the need, largely for internal party management reasons, at the beginning of her premiership to burnish her Brexit credentials by adopting a ‘hard Brexit’ stance. To this end, she ruled out customs union and single market membership, and a continuing role for the European Court of Justice in British law, while also continuing to insist on ‘bespoke’ arrangements for the UK to ensure something like the economic status quo with the EU would continue.

Such ‘ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking’, as well as the under-resourcing of the civil service for the Brexit negotiations, was castigated by Sir Ivan Rogers, former UK ambassador to the EU, in his leaked resignation email in January of 2017. Similarly, we might pin the blame for the 2017 general election calamity on Theresa May’s dire public communication abilities and her lack of political vision.

May’s reluctance to meet ordinary members of the public during the campaign, combined with her robotic repetition of the Conservatives’ ‘Strong and Stable’ mantra, and her obstinacy in the aftermath of the ‘Dementia Tax’ U-turn (‘Nothing has changed!’), earned her the epithet of the ‘Maybot’, and she explicitly disavowed the existence of anything like ‘Mayism’ well before the general election. It is also true that these two failures fed into each other, in that losing the general election made the Brexit negotiations much more difficult, primarily because the government could no longer guarantee that any deal reached with the EU would be able to get through Parliament.

This critique is fair, but it overlooks the fact that Theresa May also occupied an unenviable position in political time. We argued in this blog in 2017 that her predecessor David Cameron became Prime Minister at a moment when the existing political regime — what we might call the neoliberal consensus — was deeply enervated. This was most clearly reflected in the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, in the form of the recession that followed immediately after and the next decade of slow wage growth and public spending austerity.

Compounding these difficulties were the growing threat of Scottish independence and the emergence of Ukip as a major electoral force on the right. Cameron — the self-styled ‘heir to Blair’ — was affiliated to this highly vulnerable political regime and was, therefore, a disjunctive political leader, unable to repudiate the indefensible and forced to defend the dysfunctional. When Theresa May replaced Cameron in the wake of the referendum result, it was under the same conditions of political disjunction.

In one crucial respect May had an even tougher task than Cameron. The vote for Brexit not only represented a failure of Conservative statecraft, it was also in many respects a rejection of the prevailing political order. Support for Leave mirrored past support for UKIP, in that both did well among voters with no qualifications, older age groups, and in midlands and northern constituencies, and among people who wished to ‘Take back control’ of immigration.

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, it was incumbent upon her to tackle some of the grievances underlying the vote for Brexit, but the mandate she had been given was an unwelcome one, because it meant pursuing a policy with which she did not agree and thought would do serious damage to the UK economy, including in the same ‘left behind’ areas that voted for Brexit. Furthermore, the magnitude of Brexit as a process, necessitating major machinery of government changes and tortuous international negotiations over an indefinite number of years, inevitably monopolised the media and parliamentary agenda and stretched Whitehall’s governing capacity, making it difficult for May to focus on other important challenges.

Perhaps an even clearer illustration of the difficulties caused by May’s position in political time is the 2017 general election, in which she was expected to cruise to victory over a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn with an abysmal net favourability rating of -42 at the start of the campaign. May hoped to achieve a substantially increased Conservative majority, ostensibly to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations. Up until just a few weeks prior to election-day the Conservatives were 14-to-1 odds-on favourites to win a majority, but in the event Labour made significant gains and the Conservatives lost their small majority and were only able to continue in office after putting together a ‘confidence and supply’ deal with the DUP.

Although it is probably fair to say that May performed poorly in the campaign, and Labour avoided any major mishaps, the real reason for the upset was that the Conservatives’ offer to the electorate represented a spectacular misreading of the political moment. The message of the manifesto and of the campaign more broadly was one of continuity, at a time when there was a growing public appetite for change. The Conservative strategy was to capitalise on May’s then-high favourability ratings by running a highly personalised campaign, with her at the fore as a ‘safe pair of hands’ capable of delivering Brexit.

Voters had other ideas though: despite research showing that the public thought Brexit was the single most important issue facing the country at the time of the general election, 2017 was not the ‘Brexit election’. There was no significant swing towards anti-Brexit parties capable of accounting for the loss of Conservative seats. Instead, 2017 reflected Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘reconstructive’ appeal among a new cosmopolitan coalition of younger, more diverse and more educated voters with liberal social attitudes, mainly living in urban areas plugged into the global economy. The Conservative manifesto, with its focus on ‘Governing from the mainstream’, had very little to say to these people and, especially, to the public sector workers in their ninth year of austerity, younger people unable to afford to buy a home, and people grappling with the reality of low pay and highly precarious work in the ‘gig economy’.

What does all of this mean for assessments of Theresa May’s legacy? Most assessments thus far have overly personalized the ‘Brexit chaos’ and neglected the challenging context in which May operated, given her place in political time. However, her failings as a political leader have also undoubtedly contributed to the chaos and show how bad things can get when an already tricky political situation is mishandled. Therefore, perhaps May’s real legacy is to have exacerbated the political divides behind the ongoing breakdown of the Conservative-Labour duopoly of the party system.


About the Authors

Christopher Byrne is a Lecturer in Politics in the School of Social Sciences at Leeds Beckett University.

Nick Randall is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University.

Kevin Theakston is a Professor in the School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds.


All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: “Brexit talks on the verge of crucial new stage as Theresa May falters” by Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Boris Johnson supporters want no-deal Brexit and less talk of climate change

tim balepaul webbA new survey of Conservative party members reveals that 85% of those backing Boris Johnson want a no-deal Brexit – compared to two-thirds of activists as a whole. They are also more keen on tax cuts, and a quarter of them want less emphasis on climate change. Tim Bale (Queen Mary University of London) and Paul Webb (University of Sussex) ask whether the fact that nearly half of party members joined after the referendum has a bearing on the findings.

By the end of July the UK will have a new prime minister. They will be chosen not by the electorate but by a group of around 160,000 members of the Conservative Party. This selectorate gets to choose between the two candidates who finish first and second in a series of votes held among Conservative MPs.

boris johnson

The former foreign secretary Boris Johnson arrives at a meeting in Bulgaria. Photo: EU2018BG Bulgarian Presidency via a CC-BY 2.0 licence

There has, perhaps not surprisingly, been a degree of disquiet expressed about this situation. Members of political parties are, generally speaking, more zealous than members of the public. Some argue that it might be better to leave the choice of the country’s PM up to MPs. They, at least, have a direct mandate from voters. And, since governments in parliamentary systems must retain the confidence of the legislature in order to stay in office, allowing MPs to choose would at least guarantee a chain of democratic accountability from executive to electorate. That is bypassed completely when party members alone make the decision.

Such concerns are surely all the more pressing because, as our research has already shown, grassroots Conservatives can hardly be said to be representative of the country as a whole, either demographically or ideologically. There are far more men among them than there are women; most of them live in the southern half of the country; they are generally pretty well-off; they are relatively old (although not quite as ancient as often suggested); they are very, very white; and they are also significantly more right wing than the average voter – whether we’re talking about their economic or social attitudes.

Our new analysis, however, using data from a recent survey of Conservative Party members that was kindly provided to us by Chris Curtis of YouGov, reveals something that is possibly even more worrying for critics of the process. The party members who support the clear front runner, Boris Johnson, are even more ideologically unrepresentative of British voters than are the bulk of their counterparts.

Indeed, compared to the kind of members drawn to the two contenders who, currently seem to stand the best chance of grabbing the crucial runner up spot – the environment secretary, Michael Gove, and the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt – Johnson’s supporters look anything but moderate.

While only around a quarter of the wider British public support leaving the EU without a Brexit deal, an amazing 85% of Johnson’s supporters within the party are keen on a no-deal departure. Some two thirds (66%) of the nearly 900 Conservative rank-and-file members who responded to the survey said the UK should leave without a deal, so Johnson supporters are extreme even by that standard. “Only” 37% of Hunt supporters would be happy with a no-deal Brexit. Even Gove supporters are less enthusiastic about no-deal than Johnson supporters. Their man was a leading figure in the Leave campaign but only 52% of them want to leave without a deal.

Right-wing base

It’s clear that, when it comes to the 39% of the Conservative grassroots who are in Johnson’s camp, what the party’s critics would no doubt label their extremism isn’t just confined to Brexit. Asked to locate themselves ideologically, some 42% of members overall said they were on the right – not just of British politics, but of the Conservative Party itself, making Gove’s supporters (39% of whom said the same) about average. Just 15% of Hunt’s grassroots supporters (who make up just 8% of the membership overall) located themselves in that space.

Johnson’s supporters had no such problem: well over half of them (56%) said they belonged on the right wing of their party, with about the same proportion (58%) of them styling themselves as “fairly or very right wing”. The impression that Johnson’s supporters are very much a sub-set of a sub-set is only reinforced when we dig into the specifics.

For instance, Tory members in general are more inclined than the general public to want to cut tax and spending, so it comes as no surprise that 34% of them supported that option – one that only around a fifth of voters right now would go for. But those members backing Johnson, 40% of whom supported cuts, were twice as enthusiastic about them as those backing Gove (20.5%) and Hunt (22%). This may well solve the mystery of why Johnson’s only big domestic policy so far has been his promise to cut taxes – the front runner is mobilising his base.

Johnson’s base is also relatively socially-conservative. A majority (although, at 59%, hardly an overwhelming majority) of Tory members think that David Cameron’s government was right to allow same sex marriage. Those supporting Gove – who has always been seen as socially-liberal and will be seen as even more so after recent revelations about his cocaine use – are slightly more likely (at 63%) than most members to agree. Supporters of Johnson and Hunt are slightly less likely (at 54% and 55%) to do so.

However, it’s probably climate change where we see the most striking attitudinal differences between those who support Johnson and those who support the others. Rather worryingly for those who regard the issue as a priority, one in five Tory rank-and-file members would like to see less emphasis on climate change. But that rises to one in four among Johnson supporters. Just under one in ten Gove supporters feels the same way, and just over one in ten Hunt supporters.

Why the difference?

Why that might be – and why Johnson’s supporters seem to be so generally right wing as well as so keen on a no-deal Brexit – can perhaps be explained, not by demographics (supporters of all three candidates actually look pretty similar in that respect), but by looking at when the members who responded to the survey said they’d joined the party.

Nearly half (44.5%) of all the members surveyed said they’d become party members sometime after the 2016 referendum. Hunt’s backers, 41% of whom had done the same, are therefore about average. In contrast, only a third (34%) of Gove’s grassroots backers joined the party after the referendum. That suggests he draws a slightly bigger proportion of his support from those who have stuck by the party through thick and thin. Over half of those rank-and-file Tory members who are backing Johnson, however, joined the party after the EU referendum three years ago.

We can only guess as to how many of Johnson’s supporters were former UKIP sympathisers switching to the Tories; but it certainly seems possible. And, who knows, given that one doesn’t have to renounce one’s membership of the Conservative Party to become a registered supporter of the Brexit Party, perhaps some of them hold a candle for Nigel Farage as well as Johnson.

Whether the country will be as pleased as they will be if Johnson does end up making it all the way to Number 10, however, remains to be seen.

This post represents the views of the authors and not those of the Brexit blog, nor LSE. It first appeared at The Conversation.

Tim Bale is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London.

Paul Webb is Professor of Politics at the University of Sussex.

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