On the evening of 1 November 2017 we welcomed Liverpool Law School’s Professor Michael Dougan to Cambridge for a talk entitled ‘The UK and the EU: where have we got to? And where are we going?’.
As Professor of European Law and Jean Monnet Chair in EU Law, at the University of Liverpool, Michael Dougan is one of the foremost experts on EU constitutional law, the Single Market and EU welfare law. Over the past few years he has given expert testimony to the House of Commons’ European Scrutiny Committee and Foreign Affairs Select Committee, as well as the House of Lords European Union Committee. More recently his work had focused on the legal framework for and implications of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, and he gave evidence to the Treasury select committee only weeks after the EU referendum.
A landmark collection of analyses of the key issues and themes for reflection and debate within multiple areas of law relating to Brexit: ‘The UK after Brexit: Legal and Policy Challenges’, edited by Professor Dougan, has just been published.
But he has not just engaged with politicians, civil servants, and fellow academics. In an extensive programme of public lectures and debates such as this across the UK he has spoken to many thousands of concerned citizens, and his videos published on the internet before and after the referendum have been watched many millions of times. In the run-up to last year’s EU referendum one video by Professor Dougan gained widespread prominence for his dissection of the legal arguments put forward by the pro-Brexit campaign, where he showed how it had “degenerated into dishonesty on an industrial scale”.
So as over a hundred people gathered in the University Centre to hear Professor Dougan speak, Cambridge Stays Chair Paul Browne introduced Professor Dougan with a question, had the intervening 16 months caused his views to mellow at all?
Well, not really! Professor Dougan’s response was that he was “more and more repelled by the dishonesty and ineptitude of the UK government’s approach”.
This began just over half an hour of impassioned, incisive, and often darkly humorous analysis and deconstruction of the ongoing Brexit process, and particularly of the conduct and outcomes of the negotiations so far and the likely directions they will take in future. You can download a transcript of Professor Dougan’s talk here.
The talk was followed by many questions from the audience, which ranged over a wide range of topics from the Government’s failure to guarantee the rights of EU nationals and the poisonous domestic situation concerning the Brexit “divorce bill”, to the positives and negatives of EFTA/EEA membership and the steps Parliament can take to ensure it has the right and opportunity to prevent a disastrous Brexit.
As the final questions were answered more than three quarters of an hour later, it was time to reflect on what Professor Dougan had said. Certainly he drove home the point that avoiding a damaging Brexit would be a daunting challenge for even the most united and competent of governments, which this one certainly isn’t, but also the reality that even the most positive versions of Brexit – the best deals – would be far less advantageous to the UK than the deal it currently has as a member of the EU.
For us campaigners there were also messages that we need to be better at recognising, engaging with, and supporting potential political allies, not just those who are now willing to publically say that Brexit must be stopped, and that while legal cases to withdraw Article 50 might be attractive they are no solution unless backed by political will and public opinion. There can be no quick fix, but if we work together, build our movement and reach out to the millions who can be persuaded we can succeed.
We’d like to thank Professor Dougan for his inspiring talk, and for taking the time to answer so many questions and speak with audience members afterwards. We’d also like to thank our audience for joining us and taking up the challenge of an extended Q&A session with such gusto…we could have continued for another hour had time allowed. We hope that many of you will join us in future events, activities and campaigns.
As Professor Dougan finished by saying, “Bon courage!”.