Inevitability and contingency: The political economy of Brexit

14 Aug 2017

Placing Britain’s vote on 23 June 2016 to leave the European Union (EU) in historical time raises an immediate analytical problem. What was clearly the result of a number of contingencies, starting with the 2015 general election where we can see how events could readily have turned out otherwise, the result might also represent the inevitable end of Britain’s membership of the EU seen from the distant future. This article seeks to take both temporal perspectives seriously. It aims to provide an explanation of the turn to Brexit that recognises the referendum result as politically contingent and also argues that the political economy of Britain generated by Britain’s position as non-euro member of the EU while possessing the offshore financial centre of the euro-zone and Britain’s eschewal in 2004 of transition arrangements on freedom of movement for that year’s accession states made Brexit an eventual inevitability, saving a prior collapse of the euro-zone.