For academics in fields such as international relations, it is not necessarily about whether Brexit is ‘right or wrong’. Instead, it represents an almost unprecedented case study of how geopolitics (how states relate to each other) interacts with domestic politics (the political demands in Britain). One example of this close to home is how the British people’s vote to leave the EU may threaten an international agreement between the UK and the Republic of Ireland (the Good Friday Agreement of 1998). Brexit is also a classic example of complexity, as different political forces within the UK and its 27 neighbours (and in the EU as an entity) vie to shape the new relationship between Britain and the EU.
My research over a number of years has focused upon the workings of trade politics, in a world where free trade and protectionism are frequently mixed together. Under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, we enjoy a degree of free trade, but there are still many tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade. In particular, large economies such as the United States or China regulate their markets in a manner that puts their business at an advantage. During trade agreements, countries will essentially bargain for market access, offering, for example, lower tariffs in return for reciprocal rights. It stands to reason that countries with larger economies and populations have more to offer, and more cards at their disposal.
With 65 million people, a large economy, and valuable resources and abilities (such as in defence), the UK is a powerful entity, but nevertheless one that is middle-weight around the negotiation table. So whether it is dealing with the remaining EU and its market of 455 million people, or with countries such as the United States, it finds itself at a distinct disadvantage.