This post was written by Hatchet reporter Meredith Hessel.
Nile Gardiner and Rod Hunter debate the impact of Brexit. Ethan Stoler | Hatchet Photographer
Packed into GW Law School’s Moot Courtroom Tuesday, dozens watched a debate about the United Kingdom’s recent vote to leave the European Union, widely known as Brexit.
The Federalist Society, the national organization concerned with constitutional laws, organized the event between a U.S. citizen, Nile Gardiner and a U.K. native, Rod Hunter.
Gardiner is the director of the Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and a former policy researcher for Lady Thatcher. Hunter is a senior non-resident scholar of the German Marshall Fund, a former director at the National Security Council and former special assistant to President George W. Bush.
Law professor and former interim dean of the school Gregory Maggs moderated the debate and focused his questions on Brexit, the economy and trade.
Here are some highlights from the panel:
1. Taking back control
Most experts thought those in support of Brexit – which consisted of a small group of conservative rebels – would lose this battle to the political elites, but that wasn’t the case, Gardiner said.
“Sovereignty and self-determination are at the heart of the Brexit debate,” Gardiner said. “It was about taking back control of people’s lives and destiny.”
Gardiner said separating from the EU allows Britain to define itself and could possibly lead to other countries following in the U.K.’s footsteps.
“The European Union is suffocating,” he said. “It’s crucial to understand why British people felt the EU was a constraint rather than an engine. If we see the EU starting to change, we will see more European countries exiting the EU.”
Hunter said the telling phrase for the U.K. is “take back control,” as in that the British wanted to make sure they were represented in their government.
“In a time of economic stress, a sense of disarray in politics, a time where where the elite seem disconnected from popular concerns probably resonates,” Hunter said. “Just as I think you see turmoil in the U.S. election.”
2. Not a mirror of U.S.
Seventy-two percent of people in the U.K. – totaling more than 30 million citizens – voted on Brexit, Gardiner said, showing it was an important issue to the public.
“It’s significant that the main Brexit campaign was very outward looking about British leadership in the world and Britain playing a bigger role on the world stage and advancing their presence partly through free trade,” Gardiner said.
But Gardiner said the U.S. election is more negative.
“There is a lot of anger over here, a lot of isolationism, a lot of protectionism,” he said. “The presidential election is very inward looking. Brexit was very positive. The messaging was very optimistic.”
Hunter said he found some similarities in both voting systems.
“There is an increasing separation of elites and where they live and the typical average American,” Hunter said. “That may be reflected in some of the politics today — ‘Middle Finger’ politics. There’s an undercurrent that is somewhat similar.”
3. Hurting trade
The value of the pound dropped by 11 percent the night after the U.K. decided to leave the EU, which led to some skepticism on the decision’s impact on trade and manufacturing, Hunter said.
“The pound is falling to the lowest level in 35 years,” Hunter said. “The reason why it’s falling is uncertainty and uncertainty about access to the market in the future. Investors have access to the European market, so why would they go to the UK to invest.”
But Gardiner said even though the pound dropped at the time, recent economic trends show improvement.
“The pound increased over the past few weeks, the FTSE 100 reached a 16-month high last week—the stock market is absolutely soaring,” Gardiner said.
Despite the trade and foreign policy rules, Gardiner said he is sure Britain will be able to distinguish and improve its identity through Brexit.
“It is good for Britain, Europe and the United States,” Gardiner said. “You will see a stronger Britain, a better ally for the United States and you will see Brexit prompting positive changes in Europe with the decentralization of power, a greater emphasis upon economic freedom, a greater emphasis on free changes.”