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This book studies the developments of the Brexit process between June 2016 and June 2017. The British electorate’s decision to leave the European Union in June 2016 marks a major point in post war British politics, for it overturns the core policy of all preceding British governments since the early 1960s. The referendum brought down one Prime Minister, David Cameron, and bequeathed to his successor, Theresa May, the considerable challenge of negotiating the UK’s departure from the EU. The magnitude of the task is colossal. While the time frame to secure the terms of the exit is short, the exact form of Brexit remains unclear to this day.

With this book the author sets the context for the negotiations. He introduces the actors and the negotiating teams and highlights the key issues and considerations of both sides. While some works just focus on the interplay between Brussels and London, neglecting the internal regional dimension and the role and interests of the devolved administrations in the negotiations, the author looks specifically at Northern Ireland, the part of the UK that will be affected most by Brexit – in terms of both its economic and political significance.

The book concludes with consideration of the impact of the 2017 general election on the negotiations. It will be of interest to students, scholars, policy makers and the wider reader interested in British politics and the future of the EU.



Chapter 1. Leaving Europe

McGowan presents the outcome of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union as a major point in the history of modern Britain. The result for leave was so unexpected that the David Cameron led government had not just not made any contingency plans, but had even prevented Whitehall departments from contemplating such a scenario. The vote for Brexit catapulted the UK government into a period of uncertainty and doubt. Rarely has British politics been more interesting, rarely has the nature of the British state looked so precarious. ‘Brexit means Brexit’ became the mantra of Theresa May’s government, but this objective was much more complicated than the government was even willing to concede in public. McGowan outlines many of the truly fundamental questions that have arisen about the nature and type of Brexit, the government’s Brexit strategy, the role of the Westminster parliament and the devolved administrations in the process of exiting the EU as well as stressing the point that Brexit threatens the very foundations of the United Kingdom.
Lee McGowan

Chapter 2. Understanding Europe

By deliberately avoiding a historical narrative of the entire EU/UK relationship McGowan is able to firmly focus attention on developments after David Cameron’s surprise election victory in 2015. The common thread running through this chapter is the notion of a British exceptionalism that made the public’s connections with the EU problematic. McGowan maintains that such misguided exceptionslism is pushing the UK to the very fringes of the economic and political structures of contemporary Europe. There are other UK/EU relationship models of future UK/EU relations. The chapter presents other possible competing models which are now very pertinent after the UK general election of June 2017. These models provide for a softer form of Brexit.
Lee McGowan

Chapter 3. Planning Brexit, July 2016–March 2017

Ignoring the narrowness of the referendum result the new Theresa May government immediately pursued its ‘Brexit means Brexit’ approach. Its target is the triggering of Article 50. A solid determination to deliver Brexit becomes the hallmark of the government’s strategy. The Brexit agenda is pursued in the face of legal challenges, demands in parliament for more involvement and a single minded conviction that everyone will see and respect the government’s interpretation of Brexit. McGowan highlights the key developments from June 2016 until March 2017.
Lee McGowan

Chapter 4. Negotiating Brexit: The UK Position, Actors and Objectives

With Article 50 being triggered, the timetable to exit has commenced. Pronouncements, statements and red lines have been carefully choreographed. Expectations of the Brexit negotiations are presented as realities rather than aspirations and to be achieved with strong and stable leadership. McGowan identifies the May government’s position ahead of the 2017 general election, introduces the key actors involved in the process at the domestic level and highlights some of the problems ahead that make the task of reaching an agreed position difficult. Strong and stable leadership has not provided certainty.
Lee McGowan

Chapter 5. Wrestling with Europe: Assessing the Response and Positions of the European Union’s Actors

Too often it has been assumed in the UK press that the EU27 would accept and endorse the British government’s vision of Brexit. This was flawed thinking. The EU27 have their own views on Brexit. The unity of purpose of all 27 member states has remained solid. They remain determined to prevent the risk of contagion. There is widespread agreement that the UK cannot ‘have its cake and eat it’ and that the UK should not expect to enjoy the benefits of membership if not in the EU. Otherwise, other states might follow the UK lead. McGowan traces the responses of the EU actors (including the European Council, the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament) and the opening positions at the start of the negotiations.
Lee McGowan

Chapter 6. Maintaining Europe: The View from Northern Ireland

The debate on the United Kingdom’s plans for exiting the European Union is all too often considered from an Anglo (even London) centric perspective. Such assessments tend to overlook the regional dimension and the devolution of powers to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the late 1990s. Each nation has their own perspective on the implications of Brexit. The challenge for the three devolved administrations is to influence the formation of the British negotiating position. No other part of the UK will be affected as much by Brexit than Northern Ireland. It is a unique case given the border with the Irish Republic. This chapter presents the Northern Irish dimension to Brexit and stresses that some form of special consideration to Northern Ireland may either be wanted or pursued by London. McGowan argues that a failure to recognise political realities and regional sensitivities that Brexit has aroused within the two main communities in Northern Ireland could unsettle the foundations of the peace process and raises questions about the constitutional status of this part of the UK.
Lee McGowan

Chapter 7. A Union in Crisis or a Union United After June 2017?

The UK’s approach to the EU has rarely been straightforward. It has become considerably more complicated after the unexpected results from the 2017 UK general election. Holding the elections was a gamble and amounted to a huge tactical error. The results brought major changes to the political landscape. Compromise and consensus have replaced the mantra of stable and strong leadership. The suggestion that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ is no longer credible. In analysing the two week period from the election results, covering the formal launch of the negotiations to the Queen’s speech to parliament, McGowan analyses the machinations behind the formation of a minority government, identifies more May soundbites such as working in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom and acknowledges growing pressure for a softening of the UK government’s stance on Brexit. While May tries to keep one union connected, the European Union is being reinvigorated. Where does the UK go from here?
Lee McGowan


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