Brexit: how can we take control?

Battle of Ideas festival 2023, Sunday 29 October, Church House, London


Seven years on from the historic decision to leave the EU, British voters may be left wondering when exactly they get to ‘take back control’. While it is true that decision-making has (mostly) reverted from Brussels to Westminster, it often feels like we have had all the downsides of Brexit with few benefits.

Leaving the EU has not been the disaster that many people – including the leading lights in politics and business – predicted. But there’s been precious little sign that the demand for wider transformation – whether it is raising living standards, controlling the UK’s borders or a sense that politicians are really paying attention to the concerns of voters – has been met.

But perhaps all this is missing the point. As the authors of Taking Control: Sovereignty and Democracy after Brexit argue, the EU is not a supranational nanny state, nor an internationalist peace project. It is the means by which Europe’s elites transformed their own states in order to rule the void where representative politics used to be. From this point of view, leaving the EU is a necessary but not sufficient step towards closing the chasm between rulers and ruled.

When the current government looks spent of ideas and the main opposition hardly looks much better, politics is in a dysfunctional state. Is political life now destined to be forever moribund or is there a way forward that can strengthen representative democracy and improve the lives of everyone across the UK? Whatever happened to ‘power to the people’?

Dr Philip Cunliffe
associate professor, Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, UCL; author, The New Twenty Years’ Crisis 1999-2019: a critique of international relations and Cosmopolitan Dystopia; co-host, Aufhebunga Bunga podcast

James Hallwood
head of policy and external affairs, Council of Deans of Health

Baroness Kate Hoey
non-aligned peer, House of Lords; former Labour MP; former sports minister; former unpaid commissioner for sport, London Mayor’s office; Leave campaigner

James Holland
writer and political consultant; Leave campaigner; former communications director, European Conservatives and Reformists Party

Peter Ramsay
professor of law, London School of Economics and Political Science; author, Taking Control: Sovereignty and Democracy After Brexit

Robert Hoey