Integration or Disintegration, Brexit or Bremain

13 June 2016

With a fortnight to go before polling day it was the turn of the School of Social Sciences and Philosophy, in association with TRISS (Trinity Research in the Social Sciences), to tackle the subject of Brexit with a public lecture on the UK referendum entitled ‘The Brexit Debate – EU Integration or Disintegration?’.

The JM Synge theatre was the venue for this lively debate, with the four speakers drawing on a wealth of research expertise in the EU, global governance and Irish and international economics.

Assistant Professor in Economics Michael Wycherley reflected on ‘The Costs and Benefits of Brexit’, where he reviewed the economic arguments put forward for the UK either to leave or to remain within the EU.

There has always been a strong economic case to remain within the EU but perhaps it’s not strong enough. Most studies suggest that the long-run net effect would be lower UK incomes in the range of -2% to -8%, yet the majority of Britons feel that they will be no worse off financially following a Brexit.

Assistant Professor in Political Science William Phelan focused on ‘The European Court of Justice and Brexit’. British Eurosceptics, he outlined, have always been highly critical of the European Court of Justice therefore it must form an important part of the debate. What some people mightn’t consider is that if the UK does leave, it will still likely have a European Court of Justice-style legal system.

It was Professor in Economics John O’Hagan who pointed out that people need to live together, however imperfectly. His talk, entitled ‘No Better Alternative to EU Identified: The Fatal Flaw in the Brexit Debate’, posed the question – does the UK want to engage with the globalised world or retreat into the kind of nationalism that characterised the early 20th century? While it has been easy for the leave campaigners to find flaws with the EU, they have singularly fail to address what the better alternative might be.

Former Head of the European Parliament Information Office in Ireland Francis Jacobs focused on ‘The aftermath and the Stakes for the European Union’. With 37 years of experience working for the European Parliament, he was well placed to examine the implications of a leave vote for individual EU countries as well as the EU as a whole.

The timing of this referendum couldn’t be worse, coming as it does amid a period of great difficulty for the European Union, characterised by the economic crisis, few common goals in foreign policy and an ongoing issue over migration. If the UK votes to leave, he pointed out, these difficulties will be accentuated.

There will be a prolonged period of uncertainty as to what happens next, there will be knock-on effects in Ireland and in many other EU countries, and the EU itself will change in nature and almost certainly be weakened.

Even if the UK votes to remain, especially if this is by a narrow margin, many problems will persist. The agreement with the UK reached earlier this year will have to be implemented and future EU reform and Treaty changes are likely to become even more problematic than in recent years.

The night was chaired by Head of School of Social Scienes and Philosophy Gail McElroy.

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