Q&A with Peter Rutland, Guest Speaker on Brexit for Speaker Series in Old Lyme

Peter Rutland (Courtesy of SECWAC)


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OLD LYME — On Thursday night, June 27 at the Old Lyme Country Club, Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought at Wesleyan University, will present: “Brexit: Why did it happen, and what comes next?” the last in a ten-lecture series hosted by the Southeast Connecticut World Affairs Council (SECWAC).

SECWAC, which was previously affiliated with the Council on Foreign Relations, is a regional affiliate of the World Affairs Council. The group is in the process of adding two additional programs, including an informal lunch group, and actively growing its membership, which now includes roughly two hundred members from across the region.

The lecture series attracts well-regarded experts in the field from across the United States, and abroad.

Rutland, an expert on contemporary Russia and Russian political economy, was born near Manchester, U.K., an area that voted strongly for Brexit. For the last thirty years, Rutland has lived in the United States.

In advance of the lecture, we had a chance to ask Rutland a few questions by email, to help our readers make sense what may be a watershed event in the history of the United Kingdom. You can find the Q&A below.

Given that the guiding mission of the Connecticut Examiner is to “Ask Big Questions in Small Places,” would it be possible for you to bring the Brexit debate down to a more human scale? What does Brexit mean for a typical family in London or Manchester? How would it affect the way they holiday, buy groceries, the availability of jobs, or the everyday hurdles of owning a small business?

It has been three years since the referendum and growing uncertainty has affected many aspects of life in Britain. For example, foreign students don’t know what level of fees they will have to pay next year, so universities face great uncertainty over their future revenue stream. Many businesses, from banks to the National health Service, are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit foreign staff. For ordinary people the actual impact of Brexit on the price and availability of goods will only hit once Britain actually leaves. Most supermarkets have only 1-2 days stock of imported items (such as toilet paper) so if we see the country headed for a no-Brexit deal on October 31 we might see panic buying and empty store shelves. 

Do you see the election of Trump and the vote for Brexit as kindred phenomena?

Yes they both tapped into people who were disaffected from the main political parties, and who were looking for a change. Eric Kaufmann at the LSE has analyzed the similarities between the Trump and brexit electorates, he found the best predictor was not income or education but their psychological profile – the question asking whether they favored strict discipline for children.  Trump and Brexit voters tend to have a more authoritarian personality.

Given that Brexit is often understood as the breakdown of a system put in place with the end of the Second World War, how do you explain the greater support for “remain” among younger voters? This isn’t just history moving forward?

Yes the older generation seem to be voting against history, to put the clock back to a lost golden age. The younger people have no illusions but that the world is changed and their perspectives are more Europe-wide than confined to Britain. “Remain” means stay in the EU which Britain joined in 1973, Leave means trying to go back to what was there before 1972.

Do you see Brexit over the long term changing the nature or priority of the “special relationship?”

Some Brexiteers claim Brexit will strengthen the special relationship with the US, the counter argument is that Britain was more valuable to the US (politically and economically) when it was part of Europe. The US has a ‘special’ relationship with a lot of countries – Canada, Australia, Japan, etc. There is nothing really that special about the special relationship with the UK.

As a Russia specialist, how does Brexit cause you to reconsider the present balance of power in Europe? Looking longer term, are there any likely (or unexpected) winners or losers over the next decade or two?

Moscow is very happy to see Brexit because it weakens the EU. Russia feels more confident dealing with countries bilaterally on an individual basis, since that increases their leverage. 

Would you be willing to peek into your crystal ball and predict for us… hard Brexit… soft Brexit… no Brexit?

Right now the money must be on Boris Johnson becoming Conservative party leader and him taking the country out of the EU on October 31 – with no deal. Brussels has repeatedly said it will not renegotiate the Theresa May withdrawal agreement, and that deal has some provisions that are unacceptable to a majority of Conservative MPs. The second most likely outcome is that Johnson calls a general election, which Labour wins, and postpones Brexit for another six months.

Thursday, June 27, 2019, 5:30 p.m. reception, 6:00 p.m. presentation. Old Lyme Country Club, 40 McCurdy Rd, Old Lyme, CT. Free for members; $20 walk-in. For more information click here.