Crash of Brexit?—Another Chance for the English School of Thought

On 23rd March, thousands of people marched in Central London demanding a second referendum on Brexit. In 2018, two years just after the first referendum, there was a popular opinion that the Brexit was a failure as it was nearly impossible for the UK state machinery to implement the conditions, mobilize the various stakeholders and make way for such a serious structural shift. The first national referendum had taken place in the country on 23rd June, where the citizens had voted for the United Kingdom to exit from the European Union. This referendum meant a drastic political change in the country following which the settlements and procedures continued till date, which hasn’t become successful.

A huge speculation, criticism, support as well as an outcry was seen in the media. While, the first Brexit vote was positive due to the right-wing politics wave spreading across the world, the second referendum does offer a hopeful chance for the moderates to make a comeback in the state. If the citizens vote against Brexit in the second referendum, it would once again assert the mediocrity that has been traditionally native to the English Society.

This mediocrity is essentially stemming from the English School of Thought. In this article, let us look at the issue of Brexit from the perspective of the English School of Thought. However, before delving into the details of this issue, it is important to understand why one must focus on the English School of Thought among the plethora of theoretical traditions present in the discipline of International Relations. The English School of Thought becomes relevant to the current discussion as it emerged and evolved predominantly in England. The origins of the English School are rooted in the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics headed by C. A. W. Manning and his former pupils—Geoffrey Goodwin, Fred Northedge and Alan James. One of the most notable features of this thought is that they adopted a middle approach. Some theorists support the decline of the state arguments in the contemporary world while others argue that states have not declined so far as to be removed from their position of being central actors in International Relations.

The English School of Thought has a unique relation with the country where it was born in. The English school of thought basically evolved as an academic discipline as it was incorporated by Manning as an under-graduate degree programme. It spread in the English psyche. Manning, coming from a law and jurisprudence background, and having looked at the two wars—the inter-war period and the post-war period a very Euro-centric dynamics, was bound to reflect them in the school. Thus, the idea of a unified and strong Europe is very dear to these theorists. Their main aim is looking at the ways of ending the international anarchy by strengthening the system of international jurisdiction, obligation, etc.

The English School does not represent the British way of thinking and there are many British scholars critical about it. However, majority of the scholars from Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, London University, etc. were sharp proponents of this theory. Here, although the School expanded its scope and geography, it was centrally placed and largely operative from England. The School begins their conceptualization by attesting to the realist tradition. They agree that the international system is an anarchic one. However, this anarchy needs to be mended by the facilitation of institutional cooperation. Their basic argument is that the presence of a common interest shall create a greater identity and lead to the acceptance of a larger scheme of rules which would facilitate co-existence and maintenance of the world order.

One of the most prominent examples of this was the European Union. It was created in 1993 as an economic and political organization of around 28 countries. The formation of the Union was in tandem with the ethos shared by the proponents of the English School of Thought. Any ES theorist views inter-state institutionalization as a sign of utmost rationality. This union created a common European identity and led to the development of a pluralistic society, bringing about economic and social development in the region.

However, the Brexit and the ideology behind it are against the very basic tenets of the English School of Thought. Brexit is an attempt at breaking away from the identity of being a ‘European’. This is refusal of the pluralistic principle. Brexit also symbolizes the departure of the middle approach that was known to have governed the English way of thinking. Brexit will bring about a radical structural alteration. It is going to bring about an absolute shift in the countries’ institutional set-up at an ‘inter’ as well as an ‘intra’ level. Also, it can be seen as an attempt at preserving the traditional British identity and the increasing influx of people from various nationalities especially the non-Europeans.

Brexit, as seen from the perspective of an English School theorist is a very unfortunate development. It represents a total departure from the basic tenets of the school. However, the inability of Brexit to be materialized even after three years and the coming up of demands from the citizens to conduct a second round of referendum could be a sign of the old English sentiments making its way back.

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