Brexit: A Drama in Six Acts

European Law Review August 2016

Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 45/2016

42 Pages Posted: 11 Jul 2016

See all articles by Paul P. Craig

Paul P. Craig

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law

Date Written: July 11, 2016


Brexit was drama and dramatic in equal measure. The referendum was initially promised in January 23 2013 and took place on June 23 2016. In the intervening years the issue remained largely in the political background, casting the occasional shadow, but rarely if ever dominating debate outside a self-select group of Conservative Eurosceptics. This was unsurprising given that the EU consistently registered low on the issues felt to be important by voters, barely ever coming above seven or eight in this regard. It was also unsurprising even within the Westminster village, since truth to tell it was not clear that the Prime Minister would have to honour the promise. This would only be so if he won an outright victory at the 2015 election. The opinion polls indicated a hung parliament where coalition government would be the order of the day, thereby allowing uncomfortable promises to be kicked into the political long grass. Matters turned out rather differently. David Cameron delivered the outright victory that had not been predicted and basked briefly in the glow of praise that attends such gladiatorial contests. It was to be short lived. The Conservative Eurosceptics left the Prime Minister in no doubt that his promise would indeed have to be kept. They pressed him to name the day, hoping that it would lead not to connubial bliss, but to the break-up of a union. The issue that had simmered on the political back burner assumed centre stage, and the run up to the referendum saw ever more heated debate. The Leave Camp won, and their principal protagonists set a new record for resiling from more promises in a shorter period of time than anyone could recall. Those who favoured Remain sincerely hope that all the rest is not just history.

This article charts the course of Brexit from the Bloomberg speech through to the referendum and beyond. It takes the drama that was Brexit and uses it to structure the subsequent analysis. Being cognizant of place and time, and the fact that it is 400 years since the death of Shakespeare, the ensuing discussion is therefore broken down into six Acts, each of which is foreshadowed by some select Shakespearian quotations that are pertinent to the discourse. I hope that it thereby enriches the analysis. Act 1 considers the road to Bloomberg and the origins of the promise to hold the referendum, followed in Act 2 by examination of the importance of the Balance of Competence Review, which was a major government exercise in which each department assessed the impact of EU law in its area. Act 3 picks up the story after the Conservative electoral victory in 2015, analysing David Cameron’s renegotiation of the UK’s terms of EU membership, while Act 4 concerns the referendum debate and the principal arguments deployed by the Leave and Remain camp respectively. Act 5, entitled the ‘political fall-out, a week is a long time in politics’, continues the story in the aftermath of the referendum, and contains three more specific scenes, politics as blood-sport, politics as party and politics as responsibility; it is followed by Act 6 ‘the legal fall-out, two years is a short time in law’, which also has three particular scenes in which key issues concerning the beginning, middle and end of the negotiation process under Article 50 TEU are explored.

Keywords: EU, withdrawal, Parliament, referendum, prerogative

Suggested Citation

Craig, Paul P., Brexit: A Drama in Six Acts (July 11, 2016). European Law Review August 2016, Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 45/2016, Available at SSRN:

Paul P. Craig (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law ( email )

St. Cross Building
St. Cross Road
Oxford, OX1 3UJ
United Kingdom

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics