Academics from across Europe came together at DCU to debate Brexit and analyse the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. The Conference “The Law & Politics of Brexit” took place on 20 and 21 April was at the School of Law & Government. It was convened by Federico Fabbrini and sponsored by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, together with the Centro Studi sul Federalismo (Turin), the Reinholdt W. Jorck og Hustrus Fond (Copenhagen), and Matheson Law Firm (Dublin).
Speakers included: Charles Flanagan (Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade), Kalypso Nicolaidis (Oxford University), Paul Craig (Oxford University), Giorgio Sacerdoti (Bocconi University, Milan), Stephen Tierney (University of Edinburgh) and Sionaidh Douglas-Scott (Queen Mary University), among others.
Five key takeaway points from the conference are:
- The UK and EU disagree on both substance and process of the negotiations: London wants to negotiate withdrawal in parallel with talks on new relations with the EU. Brussels insists preliminary discussions on future relations can only start when there has been sufficient progress in the divorce proceedings.
- Legal precedents to address the problem of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland are in place: WTO rules allow for frontier traffic exceptions and the EU has special rules for trade between Northern Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus.
- British exit from the EU may fundamentally alter the UK’s own constitutional set-up among its four nations. In particular, it may strengthen the case for a second independence referendum in pro-EU Scotland.
- Opinions differ sharply on whether the EU should be tough or tender in the Article 50 talks. While the UK may, as a former member state of the EU, merit special treatment/status, allowing it to keep some of the benefits of membership post- Brexit, this could spark moves to quit the EU elsewhere.
- UK withdrawal changes the political dynamics and economic incentives within the EU-27. Moreover, Brexit requires the 27/EU institutions to agree treaty changes to adapt and reform the Union. While this may offer an opportunity for substantial constitutional changes such as political and/or fiscal union, the question remains: can the EU27 proceed as one or is multi-speed integration the better option.