The debate during the conference ‘Brexit Reviewed: Process, Consequences, and Scenarios’, organized by the University of Groningen within the framework of the EUIDEA project led by Istituto Affari internazionali (IAI).

Groningen – However it goes, Brexit is there to stay. The departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union will have a legacy, and a potentially critical one.

The process of leaving the European Union won’t be easy for anybody, neither for the UK side nor for the EU. Challenges linked to this unprecedented occurrence are political, of course. They are also legal and economical. But there is also a democratic challenge surrounding the British-European issue, which is becoming increasingly complex.

The risk of a potential never-ending Brexit process is real and cannot be ignored. Even  in the case that London and Brussels finally find a solution, this is nevertheless likely to foster further instability on both sides of the Channel. This is, in a nutshell, the Brexit-related situation debated during the conference ‘Brexit Reviewed: Process, Consequences, and Scenarios’, organized by the University of Groningen within the framework of the EUIDEA project led by Istituto Affari internazionali (IAI), with the participation of Eunews as media partner.

Funded by the European Commission under the Horizon2020 program, EUIDEA addresses differentiation and integration issues in order to find viable solutions to the current challenges that the EU is facing. And Brexit is one the most prominent challenges so far.

The main critical aspects of Brexit are both political and practical. The European leaders have decided to grant the UK more time to leave. An extension until the end of October, 2019  was agreed in the latest extraordinary European Council meeting in mid-April. But buying additional time represents neither a solution nor will it necessarily facilitate the UK and the EU in finding an agreement.

“It is possible that in six months time we’ll find ourselves exactly in the same scenario”, warned Larissa Brunner, from the European Policy Center (EPC). “The EU wants to avoid a never-ending extension, but in October Europe can find itself at the same point”. In other words,  theUK has proposed no solutions and may need an additional period of extension in order to find a way out.

Looking ahead the situation remains very complicated, according to Brunner. “There are three possibilities: no-deal, a deal, and remain”. None of them is going to provide a win-win solution. As she explained, “in case of no-deal, the UK will be forced to come back to the table” to arrange the future relationships, or at least try to do so. Such a case will make the situation “unstable, for the impact on all the aspects, above all for the Irish question”.

In the second case, “a deal would make the situation unstable, too”, she stressed. An agreement between London and Brussels “wouldn’t satisfy the remainers”, and at the same time “Brexiteers woudn’t be happy with the backstop”, the arrangements required to avoid a hard border along the Irish frontier. Furthermore, “even in the case of a deal there will be disruptions”.

Even if some EU countries wish the UK reverse the article 50 procedure and decide to stay, remaining won’t be a good option, either. In the remain scenario, Brunner warned “people could feel betrayed”, because the final outcome would be exactly the opposite of what they voted for. “We could enter in a very uncomfortable territory”.

Here comes the second, not irrelevant, issue of Brexit: the paradox of democracy. “The problem of democracy is to provide realistic options, not dreams”, stressed Lars Rensmann, Professor at the University of Groningen. In the case of Brexit, democratic players offered too-simple-to-be-true solutions, generating the Brexit conundrum.

In democratic systems, the majority decides. However, “direct democracy is neither so direct as it might seem – it depends what you put on the ballot – nor the only source of democratic legitimation and policy making.” It could be also argued that “a referendum doesn’t express the will of the people but the opinion of a qualified majority”, and that was the case for the British voters. However, it doesn’t mean that the politicians as traditional decision-makers  can decide what to do. “The British Parliament and the British government are not in the position of acting”, outlined the Professor Rensmann.

Is that enough to call for a second referendum on Brexit? “The common sense that a second referendum would violate principles of democracy is profoundly misguided. On the contrary, it would fulfil the ambitious and robust criteria of deliberative democracy” since UK citizens are much more aware of the meaning of their vote today than they were during the Brexit referendum on 23 June 2016.“That’s why a second referendum could be used” in this case with the aim of having a decision.

The good news about this situation is that “now talking about Polexit, Czexit doesn’t make sense”, Peter Kratochvìl, from the Institute of International Relations of Prague, pointed out. Nevertheless, the fact that Brexit is showing its limits doesn’t mean the EU is safe. “What I think will happen is that other States will ask either to stay at the margins or at the core of Europe”. This process has already started. “There are those who have clear ideas in mind, such as Slovakia, who wants to stay at the core, with Germany”. This is not the case for other Member States. “Hungary and Poland might be an example of countries that want to stay at the margins, with the idea of becoming a sort of Eastern European Switzerland”.