Tipping Point review: Journal of Contemporary European Studies

The following book review by Derek Hawes features in the March 2020 edition of the Journal of Contemporary European Studies 28 (2): 1-2. The original can be accessed here.

JCES Book Review

Derek Hawes. February 2020

Slipping Loose: The UK’s Long Drift Away from the European Union. By Martin Westlake. (Agenda Publishing, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK) 2020. (pp:224)  £60.00. ISBN: 978-1-78821-201-4 (hbk)

Tipping Point: Britain, Brexit and Security in the 2020’s. By Michael Clarke and Helen Ramscar. (I.B. Tauris, London UK) 2020. (pp: 318). £15.29. ISBN: 978-1-7883-1919-5 (pbk)

It was President de Gaulle, more than 60 years ago, delivering a firm ‘non’ to the UK’s bid to join the EEC who predicted that once inside, they would inevitably want to change it. One day perhaps, he mused, they will moor alongside it. Ten years later, after much knife-edge politicking, the Brits came aboard, or as the author of this volume suggests, the nautical metaphors were redeployed. Now indeed, abandoning ship, perhaps, rather than slipping away! Either way, Westlake’s fascinating study comes at the very moment when the process of actually leaving has occurred and a gradual transition to a new relationship is emerging. 

In his perceptive book he demonstrates that well before the UK’s 2016 referendum decision to leave, there is evidence of long-term trends that were leading the country to ‘slip loose’ into an increasingly detached state. Much of the volume is a detailed analysis by a close observer for whom it cannot have been an easy book to write. As a passionate believer in European integration and, for thirty years, an EU civil servant ‘working for the cause’ (p.199) he confesses that having been despatched to canvas Londoners for ‘remain’ in 2016, ‘I sensed that the referendum would be lost’ (p.200). There is a feeling too that writing this volume has been part of grieving. However, like all avid disciples he is quite unable to comprehend the importance that so many British people placed upon the EU’s lack of democracy, the bureaucratic inflexibility, the ruthless squashing of all and every challenge to the status quo. Nor does he see the toothless Brussels parliament for what it is: a fig-leaf. It is significant that the notion of ‘National identity.’ does not appear once in the author’s text. And yet, survey after survey show that virtually all citizens of member nations reject the notion that they are citizens of the EU. He is however right to insist that what all sides need now are ‘big-hearted, far-sighted politicians, secure in themselves’ (p.202) – of the kind now populating the British Parliament perhaps?

Of all the issues yet to be resolved in the divorce proceedings, that of security is perhaps the most pressing and in Clarke and Ramscar’s new volume, Tipping Point, the authors try to evaluate Britain’s security prospects by linking the legacies of the immediate past with the emerging trends of the future. They forecast that some uncomfortably new thinking will be required if Britain’s leaders are to navigate the country to a reasonably secure status in a decade that shows all the signs of being unpredictable and turbulent. ‘The convergence of a number of longer-term trends will turn British security into something of a high-wire act, the Brexit process having whipped away the safety net’ (p.2). 

The authors’ theme is that for a country as ‘globalised’ as the UK, security challenges cover a wide spectrum – from terrorism, international crime and cyber- crime to the prospect of war in its own continent, they claim that the UK’s departure has turned the current period into a political tipping point from which there is no hiding. However, it should be said that much of the book was researched and written before the most recent, decisive exit process had been achieved and this means that many of the doubts and question marks are, if not removed, then scheduled for negotiation during the detailed uncoupling now in hand. The way forward is clearer and problems clarified which will allow the country to get through the 2020s with better prospects than for many a decade. This book’s concentration on the immediate and long-term challenges, from security and foreign policy to the crisis of liberal democracy – and the immaculate pedigree of both distinguished authors suggest Tipping Point will be on many desks in Whitehall and Brussels.    

For students and their tutors of International affairs who come to assess the long-term consequences of Brexit in the coming years, both these books should be on their reading lists.

Derek Hawes, University of Bristol