The Final Brexit Question: The known Plan A to remain or the unknown Plan B to leave

Tuesday, 23 February 2016
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Author: Michael Emerson

Series: CEPS Working Document No. 418

The terms for the UK to remain in the EU are now known, amounting to the status quo as amended by the agreement reached at the European Council on 18-19 February 2016, in response to Prime Minister David Cameron’s four requests (Plan A). The terms for leaving, however, are completely unknown, beyond vague talk about liberating the UK from regulation by Brussels. There is no known Plan B developed either by the British government or the secessionists. The choice to be offered in the referendum, now scheduled to take place on 23 June 2016, between the known Plan A and an unknown Plan B is an alarmingly hazardous matter for democratic deliberation. This paper therefore attempts to sketch three alternative Plan Bs, and to evaluate their qualities in relation to the Plan A. Two relatively simple plans (B.1 and B.2) have the virtue of clarity, and have some supporters, but are implausible for either economic or political reasons. This leads to consideration of a deeper Plan B.3, in which the UK would enter into complex negotiations with both the EU and the rest of the world to try and obtain the best possible outcome with secession. But this is found to be much more problematic than secessionists suggest and less advantageous than Plan A on economic grounds. In addition, by seceding, the UK has nothing to gain and a lot to lose in its status as a foreign policy actor in world affairs. Finally, there is the serious risk that secession by the UK from the EU could lead to disintegration of the UK itself through the secession of Scotland.

Michael Emerson is Associate Senior Research Fellow at CEPS.