Ask the Expert: 28+ perspectives on Brexit with Professor Helen Drake

In our latest ESRC-sponsored Ask The Expert seminar, Professor Helen Drake, Institute Director, Diplomacy and International Governance at Loughborough University London, introduced the work and initial findings of a new research project looking on Brexit perspectives and negotiating positions of the remaining 27 EU member states.

Brexit in Key Electoral Contests

Professor Drake started off the seminar by discussing the analysis the 28 Plus project has conducted so far in evaluating what impact, if any, the UK’s decision to leave the European Union had on recent electoral campaigns and election results in Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Italy. These member states were selected as firstly, elections were[i] due following the referendum in the UK; and secondly, each country was subject to an increased pressure of Eurosceptic populist parties.

The findings stated that Brexit was not a salient issue and did not appear to influence government formation in each of the selected member states. Debates in regard to Brexit did not manifest as a major rhetoric during election campaigns either. There is no sign of a ‘domino effect’ towards hard Euroscepticism elsewhere in the EU; so far, the UK’s decision to leave the EU does not seem to be layering to any other -exits.

EU Negotiating Positions

The second question Professor Drake explored was in regard to the aggregation of the positions of the 28 Plus key players – the remaining 27 member states and the variety of EU institutions.

The EU sees the UK position on leaving the Union as still unclear. Whilst the position of the EU member states and institutions has diverged to a single set at the moment, some deviation might arise in the later stage of negotiations.

The remaining negotiation issues (at the time of the talk) were regarding money and the ‘divorce bill’, the uncertainty of the future of the Northern Irish border, and the future relationship between the EU and the UK.

Social Media Analysis

Professor Drake’s team also analysed the emotional impact of the Brexit debate and negotiations developments on the British public. Benchmarking tweets sent on opinions on 4 topics (Article 50, hard Brexit, soft Brexit, and the single market) between mid-September until mid-October 2017 against the 8 core emotions (anger, confusion, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, shame, and surprise), yielded interesting results.

Despite a limited sample, the highest proportion of tweeters who expressed:

  • surprise/shock (42%) or disgust (13%) did so in regard to Article 50;
  • fear (24%), sadness (30%), and shame (29%) around Hard Brexit;
  • happiness (48%) and anger (9%) when discussing Soft Brexit;
  • and confusion (16%) about the single market.

Bottom Line

One thing policy-makers should take from Professor Drake’s work: Leaving the European Union is not all about the United Kingdom. One common mistake in popular debate Professor Drake would like to correct: The remaining 27 European Union member states are allies and are not pursuing an agenda against the UK (they are not ‘out to get us’).

You can find a recording of the event here.


[i] In the case of Italy, are due.


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