The EU after Brexit: EU-UK Relations and the latent crisis of withdrawal

Usherwood, Simon (2023). The EU after Brexit: EU-UK Relations and the latent crisis of withdrawal. In: Roos, Mechthild and Schade, Daniel eds. The EU under strain? Current crises shaping European Union politics. De Gruyter, pp. 173–190.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110790337-010

Abstract

The UK represents an ambiguous object in the EU’s near neighbourhood: simultaneously a major partner, closely aligned on many matters of policy and knowledgeable in how the EU works, and a persistent source of significant difficulties, railing against any stabilisation of a new relationship post-withdrawal. As much as the EU was able to rapidly produce a strong and coherent response to the UK’s decision, and so turn a crisis into something much more manageable, this does not mean that the crisis aspects have been banished for good. Instead, the UK has carved out a new path for other member states, lowering the barriers to future withdrawals and establishing precedents of process and preference that might come to be used against the EU down the line. Moreover, the operationalisation of withdrawal also creates a moral hazard insofar as current member states will recognise that the EU cannot afford to lose another member this way, so increasing the leverage of any state seeking renegotiations of the terms of that membership. In this way, Brexit seems to provide two perspectives on crisis: the lived experience of a seemingly successful defence of core values with its containment and management of the UK, but also a pathway to a future crisis where such success cannot be guaranteed.

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