19th April 2019
One common accusation in the debates about Brexit is that of “exceptionalism”.
This often happens when there is a sense that the person you (think you) disagree with is asserting something arrogant or special about the UK or Great Britain or England.
“That is British [or English] exceptionalism,” will come the charge, fairly or unfairly.
But for those of us caught up in the dramatics of Brexit, and who are seeking to understand and explain it, there is another potential peril.
This is not a surprise: as Brexit unfolds in all its spectacular messiness, it is natural to assume it is unique.
And there are certainly parts of it which are novel.
But as a fascinating post at the OUP sets out, however, there are many examples of states leaving intergovernmental organisations and with serious consequences.
Departures are not unusual, and nor are painful departures with profound consequences.
Over time, commentators and historians will no doubt describe Brexit in contexts and perspectives which will counter our contemporaneous view that this is all about us.
The EU does have special qualities: it is not just an intergovernmental organisation.
The EU provides for a new legal order which provides rights and obligations which are “vertical” and so attach themselves on individuals and companies within the member states.
The member state, however, retains ultimate sovereignty and also autonomy in many areas of law and policy.
There is no other international organisation which does this: the nearest analogue would probably be states fully within a federal system (for example, the USA or Germany).
A state seeking to depart such a new legal order will necessarily have unprecedented legal and other problems.
That is because the international organisation being quitted will itself have been unprecedented.
And so Brexit is, to a significant extent, exceptional.
The challenge for commentators and historians will be to work out what can be explained (away) by context and perspective, and to describe and account for what about this mess has never been seen before.
Thank you for reading me on this new(ish) blog.
And if you want to subscribe, there is subscription box above (on an internet browser) or on a pulldown list (on mobile). I expect to be blogging here more often than being on Twitter for a while.
Comments are welcome but pre-moderated, and they will not be published if irksome.