The UK voted to leave the European Union in a June 2016 referendum. From the start, I’ve been at the forefront of the debate on Brexit – an issue that is dominating British politics.
The then newly elected Tory government wanted specific wording for the referendum. In a public consultation, I submitted evidence to the Electoral Commission that challenged the proposed referendum wording’s neutrality and consistency with recent constitutional-related referenda. I argued that it should be changed – and the Electoral Commission agreed. I’m one of only two academics quoted in their official report that was accepted by the government, approved by Parliament and set for the referendum vote.
I am one of the UK’s top commentators highly critical of how the referendum was then conducted and the government’s Brexit strategy. The Wall Street Journal noted me as someone who might understand what “Brexit means Brexit” actually means. While both sides of the campaign have much to answer for, the Vote Leave campaign made promises about NHS funding, points based migration and the Single Market where each was denied one after the other within minutes of the final result. This apparent attempt at misleading the public – discussed in my columns for The Journal – has been picked up by others too. The end result is it won’t only be “Remainers” left disappointed, but I strongly suspect most “Leavers” as well creating a toxic atmosphere of concern for our democracy (as noted by The Observer) and picked up by the International Business Times.
Brexit is not as easy as 1, 2, 3. There are 53,000 or more legal regulations to wade through to determine which to keep, revise or scrap. This effort will be enormous and led me to claim to The Independent and Daily Mail that the closer the government looked at the size and scale of the task ahead, the less likely they would proceed with a full break. I predicted the government would look for scapegoats – and they almost found them in the judiciary. I argued that the government’s case was frivolous, it would definitely lose in the High Court and Supreme Court and, if really serious about getting on with Brexit, could have triggered Article 50 months earlier. The government lost its case and appeal almost as quickly as it had arrived in court – and then tried to blame unruly MPs and next the House of Lords before swift approval by Parliament of the government’s right to trigger Article 50. My work is cited repeatedly in the Honourable Society of Middle Temple’s Brexit Bibliography in its list of the best legal commentary on Britain’s biggest legal story.
But triggering Article 50 is not the same as leaving the EU – and leaving the EU does not mean exiting the EEA. I remain doubtful still about how much different post-Brexit Britain will really be when the dust settles, as I argue in a column for The Independent that went viral. This was later reported by the Daily Express after a Sky News interview with Adam Boulton discussing my Indy column.
As a leading immigration expert, I’ve been especially critical of the government’s claims about Brexit and immigration. In my column for The Times, I argued that the Prime Minister did not need to wait for Brexit to reduce immigration – her failure is either a result of the government’s not knowing what controls it can use or an unwillingness to fulfil their manifesto commitments. In my column for The Daily Telegraph, I show how a post-Brexit immigration strategy might work. In my column for LabourList, I argue that the Prime Minister – now diminished after losing her parliamentary majority in the general election – should pause talks to bring on board Labour and set out a clearer set of aims for negotiations. Talks shouldn’t start just to have them – and the government shouldn’t act like the election didn’t happen either. My live debate with George Galloway on the start of Brexit talks. In my column for The Independent, I argue that Theresa May’s “offer” on EU citizen rights raises more questions than it answer: instead of giving us certainty, she gave us caveats. Saying “Brexit means Brexit” was the easy part, as I say in The Times. Now the government needs to spell it out with time running short – and also, it seems, with a government short on ideas about how it can deliver a successful Brexit.