Simulating Brexit

2153602543_91bc39b403In the spirit of not wasting a good crisis, the UK’s decision to leave the European Union offers a great way into understanding a number of political dynamics.

Of course, we need to tread a bit carefully here, for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is a highly fluid situation, so whatever one might plan for the autumn might be completely overtaken by events. Secondly, some of the things that have happened over the past week are so extreme and atypical that while you might reproduce them in a simulation setting, you are almost certainly never going to see them happen again. Thirdly, there’s an awful lot going on, so you need to pick your targets clearly.

With all those caveats in mind, some options still present themselves.

Most obviously, there is going to a negotiation to agree the terms of the UK’s exit, as per Art.50 TEU. Now, as I don’t need to tell you (but maybe do need to tell some of the campaigners), this means the other member states agree a position, then negotiate with the UK to reach an agreement, which is then approved by all (plus the European Parliament (EP)).

This would work well with a large group, representing as many of the different parties as you like, using whatever protocol the EU finally establishes for this (probably available in the autumn), or just the same rough approach I set out in a different EU-crisis scenario earlier this year. The need for EP approval adds a nice little twist, as member states will have to take account of it throughout the negotiations, while simultaneously thinking how they can make sure MEPs don’t make life any more complicated than it already is.

The difficulties will be primarily one of scale: with up to 28 states, can students find enough material to support their negotiating briefs? I’m aware of some groups that are pulling together such intel, but even this will be relatively brief, especially if your negotiation gets into any substantive issues (which it most likely would). One way around this would to limit discussion to core principles and a framework deal, or to a particular area of policy.

The second obvious option to pursue is one focused on the domestic politics of the situation. Here, a Parliamentary debate might be in order, either on confirming the result of the referendum, or an outline negotiating brief for the government in the Art.50 talks, or on motion of no confidence (this one is a bit further down the line). This let’s students get into party politics (both at the inter- and intra-party levels) and ties in nicely with all the other shenanigans going on in Westminister these days.

The third option draws a bit from both of the first, by focusing on any one actor in this process and drawing up a detailed negotiating brief for them: the UK, another member state, the EP, the European Council President or the Commission. This gets much deeper into substantive issues, so it’s best suited to those who already know about the workings of the EU, including any law students you can drag in: you could do this with a much smaller group, or even run parallel groups. Moreover, given the apparent lack of planning that was done before the vote, you could probably then send your final brief to that institution and have a good chance that they’d use it.

Finally, you could step out of the narrowly political perspective and look at the impact of Brexit on something else, such as an industrial sector, or a company. Here the work would be an impact assessment and could range as widely as you like (business students are an obvious addition). This option is best for those who don’t normally teach the EU, or who are teaching outside Europe, since there will be global political and economic repercussions: consider, for example, impacts on NATO and US foreign or trade policy.

As always, the key consideration should be that you are clear about your learning objectives: what do you want to achieve from this? If you can keep this clear, then you’ve got some great opportunities waiting for you.

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