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Anand Menon: 'Ireland is the only EU country that bothered to reflect on its relationship with the UK'

Professor Anand Menon, Director of the think-tank The UK in a Changing Europe, was speaking in Dublin today.

IMG_7187-2 Source: Lorcan Mullally/IIEA

The Republic of Ireland is the only one of the EU 27 that is actually bothered to sit down and reflect in detail on the sort of long-term relationship it wants to see built between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

“I THINK, IN a sense, what other member states have done is simply pass the buck to the EU Commission and say ‘You deal with this’.”

Professor Anand Menon, Director of the think-tank The UK in a Changing Europe, says he was reluctant to share these thoughts after the flack he got on Twitter after writing this opinion piece in the Financial Times, where he argued that the EU “behaved inflexibly”. 

As a professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College London, Menon has become known as an articulate expert on Brexit, although, as he said today: “being an expert on Brexit is a pretty low bar, because there’s so much uncertainty”.

He’s also drawn people’s interest for his measured and informed criticism of the EU; in the Financial Times piece that festered a backlash last week, he argued:

‘EU unity’, in short supply on other substantive questions, was paraded as an end in itself, eclipsing the substance. The effect was to drive the UK away, not just from EU membership but from wider European co-operation.

smmt-international-automotive-summit-2019 Professor Anand Menon, Director of The UK in a Changing Europe. Source: Geoff Caddick

Speaking in Dublin today at an event by the Institute of International and European Affairs, Menon said that “And you hear this now if you have private conversations with officials from some of the east European countries who are now starting to think ‘Oh my God, what about the security relationship? This is all heading in the wrong direction.’”

Menon outlined in his speech how divided the United Kingdom had become since the Brexit vote, and that the divides didn’t stray over normal Tory/Labour lines, but a melée of different Brexit views, party loyalties, and the usual left- and right- wing inclinations.

UK parliament is “angry”, “divided” and “doesn’t know what to do” about Brexit, that it “almost perfectly represents the state of the British people”.

Out of the four “unpalatable” Brexit choices, surveys show that “no deal and Remain were the two most popular first choices” and “also the two most popular last choices”.

There is no majority, either amongst the British people or in that old parliament for any sort of Brexit outcome. In that sense of things, it’s always struck me that parliament’s been doing its job quite well. 

He also illustrated how divided the British people are by Brexit, and how it “shades” the British people’s views of each other.

“So for instance if you ask people how the British economy has performed since the referendum – not how it will perform after Brexit, how it has performed -
Leavers will be far more positive about how it has performed than Remain.

“A majority of Remainers would not want to rent a room in their house to someone who voted Leave. A large number of Remainers will be uncomfortable about seeing one of their own kids marry a Leaver.”

He said that because of Brexit “sucking all the life out of politics and the civil service”, “economic grievance has gotten worse”. 

Part of the reason for the Brexit vote stemmed from genuine grievance about the state of the country. Because of Brexit, we simply haven’t been governed for three years – nothing has happened. 

What you find it is a British people that even in 2016 were deeply dissatisfied with the status quo are even more dissatisfied with the status quo and slightly more irritated with their rules.

“We face the prospect of continued uncertainty and continued populism in our political system for the foreseeable future, because of the melding of these two things: dissatisfaction with politics, and prevailing and continuing and dissatisfaction with the status of our economic setting.”

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