Hi, I’m Anand Menon, director of the think-tank the UK in a Changing Europe. I’m also Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at King’s College London.


Our mission at the UK in a Changing Europe is to make the best social science research available and accessible to as large an audience as possible. Our audience includes politicians, civil servants, journalists, businesses, charities, and of course, the general public.

We don’t only work on Brexit, but as it’s coming up to exactly five years since the UK voted to leave the EU, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how British politics has changed in that time, and about what academics got both right and wrong during the referendum campaign and beyond.

Not everyone wants to talk to academics – they think we talk solely in jargon and only explain things years after the fact. To dispel such thinking, we’ve resorted to a number of tactics.

During the referendum campaign, much of what we did was public facing. We held many events up and down the country where people could ask whatever they wanted about the issues at stake.

We’ve made videos to try to explain complex issues – even using Lego to explain transition.

I’ve tolerated the terror of appearing on Question Time, not once, but several times. And I’ve made an idiot of myself on Tik Tok as well. In short, we’ve learned to communicate in ways not normally associated with academics.

Ask me anything about Brexit, UK politics, social science research and communicating with the public and I’ll do my best to answer - without jargon. Politics aside, I also have much to say about Leeds United Football club....

Comments: 159 • Responses: 37  • Date: 

Gweena53 karma

What has surprised you the most about the Brexit process (from both 'Remain' and 'Leave' perspective)?

Indeed, As it is fair to say a majority of experts prefered the set of known trade-offs EU membership offered over the uncertainty of the unknown. Has the picture changed, (has a stronger argument for Leave emerged, or is it playing out as you expected)?

UKandEU130 karma

As a social scientist, I have to say the way things have gone could hardly have been more fascinating! We've been able to examine loads of unexpected phenomena like how to negotiate exit, how the EU behaved, what British Government looks like when we have a minority gov negotiating an issue that divides the nation down the middle etc etc! What has surprised me most is how politicians and civil servants didn't seem to grasp the full implications - economic, political and constitutional - of leaving the EU. It was relatively late in the day, for instance, that they realised Northern Ireland would be such a big issue.,

Gweena32 karma

Thanks for replying, I share your fascination with what the process has uncovered (frankly amazed that leading figures still frame EU as acting unfairly, rather than in line with the agreement UK happily signed at the end of last year).

Do you think this continued inability to appreicate the full picture is due to how effectively Remain concerns were dismissed as 'Project Fear'?

UKandEU39 karma

To an extent yes. But also a pro-Brexit Government can hardly affird to admit that there are any costs. It's a shame. You could imagine us having an honest debate (where both sides were honest) and discussing the trade-offs between the short term economic impacts and the benefits of being self-regulating, able to shift political debate decisively etc.

Gweena14 karma

To that end, who are the most honest advocates; for both remain and leave operating in the public sphere today (present company excluded of course)?

UKandEU44 karma

Blimey. That's a tough one. I think the debate is so polarised at practitioner level it's hard to find people who are willing to be balanced - then again your job in politics is not to be balanced! Robert Tombs backed Leave and in his book has an interesting explanation as to why. Helen Thompson is someone who I'd always listen to who is interesting and original and makes you think. Similarly Jonathan Portes and Catherine Barnard are always worth listening to. But you'll notice I've named only academics!

UKandEU43 karma

Thank you so much for your questions everyone. I hope I managed to answer the odd one OK. And now I know what Reddit is!

BritBrussels40 karma

Hi Anand. You’re interviewing David Frost later this week. Given he gave a speech in Brussels last year effectively saying he didn’t believe in any of the expected negative economic impacts of Brexit, and is still saying there has been no collapse in trade (try finding anything made in Britain in the EU at the moment, 25% falls in goods year of year, fishing wrecked, etc) will you ask him why the reality of what business is seeing first hand is so different from the rosy picture he gives?

Ps. These are palpably not ‘teething problems’ but are structural changes to trading patterns.

UKandEU37 karma

will certainly ask him about his view of the forecasts and of the early evidence of a Brexit impact on trade, yes!

Lucida152235 karma

There have been many points over the last five years where the mantra 'this is not normal' has been repeated. Does any one 'not normal' moment stand out for you in particular? And do you think we overstate the extent to which Brexit upturned political normality?

UKandEU54 karma

First, 'not normal' does not necessarily mean 'not good'! In a sense many people were fed up normality in 2016, which partly explains the vote. For me the most striking thing since 2916 has perhaps been the degree to which Governments and, to a degree the civil service, failed to appreciate what EU membership mean, and hence what ending it might involve. This from the state that had prided itself on, and been famed in other member states for, its 'Rolls Royce' administration.

risker1513 karma

Hi thanks for this AMA, I'm wondering what you think the culture of the British diplomatic service was in Brussels and whether Whitehall ever took it seriously enough? I ask this because I got the impression talking to members of the service here that Brussels was not seen as an attractive "gig" for many of the FCO and indeed political class save for those who were super enthusiastic about the EU.

So my questions are :

  1. Do you think if the UK gov had taken the whole procedures and alliances required in Brussels as seriously as say, the Danes (also quite eurosceptic, but effective in Council negotiations, lobbying their industries, etc), and gotten more out of the EU as a result, instead of the Cameroonian confrontational approach, then it would have made a difference in attitudes towards the EU both in elite circles and the general public?

  2. Was there a principal-agent problem in the sense that the institutions in Whitehall were in their own camp wanting to affirm their own sovereignty and the ones sent to Brussels were perhaps too embedded in the EU bubble?

UKandEU21 karma

In many ways Brussels wasn't an attractive gig in purely career terms. I've heard people say they missed out on promotions while posted in Brussels. That being said, the civil service was tremendously effective at handling the business of membership when it came to coordination at home and creating alliances in Brussels., I remember French friends complaining about UK influence in Brussels throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. The real issue I think was a lack of clear political direction - that ultimately stymied attempts to build real influence.

chambo14311 karma

A few questions, if I may:

  1. Do you think the referendum should have happened? If so, should it have been conducted differently?

  2. I’ve heard people argue that we should have first negotiated a deal and then held a referendum on those terms, but of course we couldn’t start negotiating until we’d triggered the withdrawal process. Even if it had been technically possible, do you think this would have been a viable option / accepted by the EU?

  3. A friend of mine claimed before the referendum that “if Brexit doesn’t work, we can always just rejoin the EU later”. Do you think the political climate of the UK, not to mention the EU themselves, would ever allow this to happen? If we were to rejoin, how would it differ from our previous membership?

UKandEU1 karma

Well, there are people who’d argue that the rules should have been different. But the calling of the referendum and the setting of the rules for it were all done by parliament, and various options for the rules were debated. And of course in 1975 the threshold had been 50% so it would have been strange to insist on a supermajority when voting again.

I don’t think the EU would have negotiated on that basis, no. remember, even after the referendum, they refused to negotiate until Article 50 had been triggered!

Never say never, but given the stance of the two big political parties on the issue I think it will be a long time – I’d guess a minimum of a couple of parliaments before that even becomes an issue, let alone a serious one for debate in British politics. Frankly I’d be surprised if there was serious talk of rejoining in the next 15 years. The EU would of course consider an application, though I’d be amazed if they even contemplated giving us the opt outs – euro Schengen – or the rebate we had when we were a member before.

NathanNance9 karma

How do you think the academic community fared in terms of predictions regarding the impact of Brexit? Were there any predictions that transpired to be incorrect?

UKandEU22 karma

If you look at out website this week there are lots of pieces written by academics who wrote pieces before the ref and are reflecting on what they said. Most did relatively well I have to say. It was the Treasury rather than academics who put out the short term Brexit forecasts in 2016 that became so controversial. The big mistake academics - or rather Universities UK - made, I think, was to come out so strongly in favour of remain during the ref. I remember in the 2014 ref in Scotland Scottish universities remained studiously neutral.

WannoHacker9 karma

Do you think academic research into Brexit has had an ideological pro-Remain bias?

UKandEU22 karma

An awful lot of it has, yes. And I'm talking before the ref. A lot of academics simply proceeded from the assumption that the EU is a good thing, and so we need to understand how to make it work better. I remember being amazed, as we created UK in a Changing Europe, by how little academic work there was that questions this assumption or that membership was necessarily optimal (so there was next to noting looking at the costs and benefits of membership)

IceSun70638 karma

Do you think that Scotland and Northern Ireland will leave the UK?

UKandEU15 karma

It is possible but far from certain. Brexit certainly shifted opinions in both, and there was for a while a stable majority for independence in Scotland. But that is polling rather than an actually referendum - and that referendum is in the gift of the UK Government so may not happen soon. As for Northern Ireland, how the debate on a border poll progresses will hinge crucially both on whether the Protocol can be made to work, and whether a stable executive can be maintained. Which I suppose is a long winded way of saying I don't really know!

Pan_dBear8 karma

It was mentioned a while ago by Guy Verhofstadt that he could push for European associated citizenship. Do you think this could ever come to fruition?

UKandEU2 karma

I find it unlikely to be honest. It would be hard to do under EU law I think, and I’m not sure the Government would want to facilitate it.

SMBHMuse126 karma

  1. It seems at the moment that brexit has exposed a cleavage in society related to education and liberal/conservative values where tendency to vote leave/remain is a strong predictor of other political attitudes. How significant do you think this is and do you think it will persist for a long time?
  2. From a constitutional perspective, brexit appears to have consolidated power in the hands of the executive rather than restoring power to parliament as was pitched in the campaign. Do you think this is merely a result of the complicated process, or was the possibility of brexit seen as an opportunity for an executive power grab from early on?

Thanks for your time, hope all is well.

UKandEU13 karma

To answer 2 first, I think we have a government that is particularly allergic to all constraints, whether that is the EU, parliament, the courts or indeed the devolution settlement. That may change with a change of gov. On 1., you're dead right but it's hard to say if it will persist. Take one hypothetical. If the emergence from lockdown is rocky in economic terms (so for instance if there's a steep rise in unemployment following the end of furlough) I can easily imagine the 'traditional', economic, left-right dimension coming to the fore again. That would spell more trouble for the Tories than Labour I think as they have created an explicitly social values based coalition.

Springy20015 karma

Do you think Remain and Leave will continue to be political identities that drive voting behaviour, or do you think other issues will take over?

UKandEU2 karma


See answer above!

UKandEU2 karma

See an earlier answer! If that's not enough get back to me?

wdtpw5 karma

You've talked a fair bit below about the changing attitudes of the UK citizens, and the fact that Leave / Remain are currently still important categories (and will be depending on the recovery).

But I can't help but wonder if you could expand a little about people's attitudes:

a) Do you see any evidence of a change in attitude in the way people of the EU view us? And, if so, in which direction?

b) Whenever I mention Boris lying to my Tory friends, they generally respond "all politicians lie." To me, this seems like a quite nihilistic way of viewing politics - as if to give up all hope that it can be honourable or better.

As a comparison, I notice a lot of Trump supporters saying the same when confronted by Trump's lying. They also seem to be disengaged in a larger sense - many still think Trump won the election for example and distrust the mainstream media.

For myself, I find it hard to keep up what I think ought to be anger at the way standards appear to be slipping. I feel almost numb to it all now. Like I might go "oh, a dodgy contract awarded to a friend of a Tory MP. Put it on the pile with the others." Or "oh, an ethics advisor has resigned. Well that seems to be a thing these days."

I don't know how much you want to get into the rights and wrongs of policy here, but I'm actually as much interested in the results lying and slease (or a perception of lying and slease) has on people's engagement.

I.e. Do you see any sort of wider trend happening in society, where significant groups simply disengage and become cynical about it all? Or where people stop engaging in politics as a force for good and start to think about what they can get out of it?

Or, I guess, do you see any significant groups in society getting more passionate and engaged?


c) What do you think of Dominic Cumming's critique (in the past and more recently), that the UK state is basically dysfunctional? If so, can it / will it be improved?

UKandEU3 karma

In answer to a) I think at elite level views of the UK have certainly changed. At the early stages of the Brexit process, other member states were convinced the ‘Rolls Royce’ UK civil service would have a carefully thought out plan to ensure they got what they wanted from the exit negotiations. They don’t hold the UK state in such high esteem any more. And of course in the past we were seen a calm, pragmatic, non-ideological, and frankly a little dull. No longer!

b) God that’s a big question! There is significant evidence that there were high and rising levels of dissatisfaction with politics long before the referendum – 2008 and the expenses scandal and financial crisis was a key year. So I think long before the current Government, people did not trust politics or politicians, and this ‘they’re all at it’ approach has certainly made it easier for this Government to act the way it does. Will Jennings at Southampton Uni has done some fascinating work on trust in politics which I’d recommend you look at. On engagement, one of the positive things about the referendum was that it led to greater interest in and engagement with politics, but turnout in Hartlepool (which saw a rise in voting at the ref) in the by-election suggests that that might be dissipating, which would be a shame.

c) There’s a lot of truth to what he said, though I’m not convinced about the idea of a revolving door between business and the state which he seems to suggest. There are a number of ways in which the civil service can be reformed, and probably should be. The problem is it will never be a priority for governments, and it is a medium term challenge that will require sustained attention, which is why I doubt it will happen

Stonemuses14 karma

Do you think people's 'Brexit identities' will keep shaping UK political debate and elections going forward? For how long will it matter for their chances of electoral success whether an MP supported remain or leave, for example?

UKandEU7 karma

it's hard to say. Take one hypothetical. If the emergence from lockdown is rocky in economic terms (so for instance if there's a steep rise in unemployment following the end of furlough) I can easily imagine the 'traditional', economic, left-right dimension coming to the fore again. That would spell more trouble for the Tories than Labour I think as they have created an explicitly social values based coalition.

UKandEU2 karma

See answer above. In short though it's hard to say. It depends I think how salient economic issues become, not least once furlough ends.

Lovestoplaytennis4 karma

Came here just to say…OMG THANK YOU FOR DOING THIS! I have been looking for a way to learn/understand more about UK politics and those videos are amazing! If you could recommend one entry level book about UK politics to a high school student, what would it be? Thanks!

UKandEU7 karma

That's really kind, thank you! For basic narrative, read Tim Shipman's books. For something more analytical, the General Election books that are done each election are fantastic. There's also a couple of books called 'sex, lies and the ballot box' which are good fun.

Gweena4 karma

How would you solve (if it is even possible) the current debacle over the NIP...can UK chart a sustainable course outside of SM/CU without a hard border in NI?

Or is UK gov. relying on EU to (eventually) back down/prioritise its commitment to maintaining the GFA.

Furthermore, does the voracity of US support (e.g. demarche) alter this calculation; make EU feel confident enough that UK will be blamed for a hard border (if it ever gets to that)?

UKandEU8 karma

Both sides know how to solve it, but they can't agree on a way! For the UK, as you say, the EU should be more 'flexible'. For the EU, that is asking them to compromise on the integrity of their law and their market and they think the UK should just implement. It is a genuinely tricky issue and both sides have strong arguments as to why they are right. I hope some fudge might allow both to claim victory and move forward, but I'm not confident ATM.

Jerbearmeow2 karma

Can you give me something significantly positive about Brexit so I don't have to feel like life is just objectively worse?

UKandEU1 karma

It is a chance for a reset in our politics - to tackle issues (inequality) we should have dealt with ages ago but which the referendum and its aftermath have brought to centre stage

North-Tangelo-53981 karma

Hi Anand,

What, in your opinion, has caused the disaffection of the electorate, worldwide, and in your opinion the likely outcome?

UKandEU1 karma

Lots of things, from poor economic performance to a perception that politicians are unresponsive to the demands of citizens (you hear that a lot in safe seats here in the UK). But the outcome will vary by country from strong populist responses such as Trump, to what you might call ‘populist centrism’ eg Macron.

rohit41 karma

Do you think anything truly good will come out of Brexit?

UKandEU12 karma

It depends on what we, and particularly the Government, make of it. There is an opportunity to regulate better, but no one in Government seems to know precisely how as yet. Brexit lead to an uptick in interest in politics, which has to be a good thing, but it has to be maintained, and there are signs that it is not being. And Brexit also fundamentally changed out political debate. The centrality of issues like 'levelling up' are the proof of that. Again, however, Government needs to seize that opportunity and deliver.

rohit49 karma

But we have had 5 years to "seize the day" and reach our sunlit uplands. Isn't it astonishing that the British Govt continues to extol the virtues of something that has not had any real positive outcomes for the British people? Is it all just spin?

UKandEU13 karma

it is remarkable, yes. But then again the actual negotiations took ages. And there are grounds to be cynical, but equally, given the pandemic, grounds to give Government some space and time to try to deliver, surely?

ceekoo1 karma

What do you think of the Irish Deputy PM’s remarks on a unified Ireland in the not so distant future? What would this mean for UK?

UKandEU8 karma

It would weaken the UK and damage whoever presided over that from Downing Street I think. But it's far from a foregone conclusion, at least in the short to medium term,

buzdakayan1 karma

What do you think of this?

UKandEU8 karma

I think medium term the EU will have to think more deeply than it has about how to deal with and engage with neighbours who do not want to join but with whom it wants to collaborate

DrLogos1 karma

Can you shed some light on the recent warming in the relations between the UK , Ukraine and Turkey? What are the UK interests in the region? Is it related to some new strategy to contain Russia? At least that's how we see the deal in Moscow ;)

UKandEU1 karma

I’m not sure it’s that strategic. The Government is keen to strike up as many friendly relations as possible outside the EU at the moment. That being said, there are signals that the Government intends to take a firmer stance on Russia than in the past, as we see with actions on sanctions etc.

Impressive-Plan-54881 karma

As someone well-versed in this topic, how do you expect Brexit to affect the value of the Pound ; possibly creating issues in trade between UK and EU ? I know that the question of trade was brought up by a previous question but I was curious about the overall economic effects of the currency as well . Thanks!

UKandEU1 karma

Well remember it has already affected the pound as of June 2016! But there’s no clear link with trade in the way some people think, not least because complex supply chains means that while a falling pound makes imports more expensive it makes exports cheaper so the net impact on industries is hard to predict. But if the pound falls further, which it may, then imports of consumer goods will become more expensive, and that will reinforce price rises due to new post-Brexit friction at borders so I’d assume imports of some things will fall. I hope that was sufficiently vague!

dana-cole0 karma

WHY do "Conservatives report, but liberals display, greater happiness"? What do you think caused this result?


UKandEU6 karma

Maybe the sample of online survey takes, US politicians, twitter users and linkedin users?!

felixwatts0 karma

Is there a path to rejoining the EU? What's the timeline and how might it play out?

Short of rejoining is there any conceivable way that the Northern Ireland problem can be solved?

UKandEU1 karma

Hard to see how to resolve NI. Will need both sides to compromise, and neither side seems keen to. On rejoining see answer above.

scorsese123-1 karma

How long do you think the United States will maintain its superpower status in the world and which other nations do you think will replace their position?

UKandEU2 karma

God. No idea. But they will be increasingly challenged by China, especially if China can challenge the technological dominance of the US, which they are trying to do not least through their remarkable programme of building universities and promoting science.

Darlington28-1 karma

How many cats are too many?

UKandEU5 karma


uncle_sam01-1 karma

Will there ever be an English parliament? Do you think it would splve anything?

UKandEU1 karma

Not in the near term I don’t think. And I’m not convinced it would solve anything. There’s no real demand for one. The real issue, for me, is over-centralisation in England, and the response to that should be devolution not more centralisation in a new parliament

BenEHadron-2 karma

Do think the British public were mislead into voting for Brexit?

UKandEU1 karma

I think that’s overly simplistic. Many people really wanted us to leave and are really happy we have.

KGrahnn-2 karma

Simple question of yes or no: Brexit was smart move?

UKandEU1 karma

Depends who you are and what you want!

KeGeGa-2 karma

As an outsider, I see a lot of racism and xenophobic rhetoric surrounding brexit. Have you seen a shift in that since the referendum, particularly in how you explain things? Has there been a greater or smaller shift since the pandemic?

UKandEU14 karma

There was certainly a spike in reported incidents straight after the referendum. Equally, all the survey evidence suggests that the British have become more liberal in their attitudes towards immigration since June 2016.

nanokiwii-3 karma

Do you think European Union will continue to exist in the future?

UKandEU2 karma

Yes! I don’t think there’s any appetite among even scpetical member states like Hungary to see it dissolve