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Economist Reads | Brexit
Our Brexit editor picks seven books to help make sense of the issue
A reader’s guide to understanding the events of the past six years
TOPSHOT - Anti-Brexit activists' EU flags are pictured alongside the Union flags of pro-Brexit activists as they demonstrate outside of the Houses of Parliament in London on October 28, 2019. - European Union members on Monday agreed to postpone Brexit for up to three months, stepping in with a decision less than 90 hours before Britain was due to crash out with no divorce deal. The next deadline is now January 31 -- although the EU would allow an earlier date should London ratify a withdrawal agreement sooner. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Jun 20th 2022 (Updated Jun 22nd 2022)


This article is part of our Summer reads series. Visit our collection to discover “The Economist reads” guides, guest essays and more seasonal distractions.

It has repeatedly been said that Britain’s act of leaving the European Union, known as Brexit, is a process, not a single event. It is also the case that the two sides, Remain and Leave, remain bitterly divided fully six years after the referendum on June 23rd 2016. All this can make it hard to understand or follow the forces that drove Brexit or the changing nature of Britain’s relationship with the eu. Below is a selection of seven books that may help the interested reader to learn more.

All Out War. By Tim Shipman. William Collins; 630 pages; £25

When David Cameron called the referendum on February 11th 2016, he confidently expected to win it. In 1975 Harold Wilson managed to turn public opinion round and eventually win a two-thirds majority for staying in the club. This time round the opinion polls started in Mr Cameron’s favour. Yet the Remain campaign never really took off, relying too heavily on a negative message about the risks of Brexit rather than any positive message about the benefits of eu membership. This definitive book of how Leave actually won is by the political commentator at the Sunday Times. He went on to write “Fall Out”, a comprehensive account of Theresa May’s difficult premiership, and a third book that takes the story up to Boris Johnson “getting Brexit done” in 2020 will be published in November. This is our review of the book, along with three others, from 2017..

Heroic Failure. By Fintan O’Toole. Apollo; 200 pages; £9.99

Although it was little discussed during the referendum campaign, as soon as Leave won it became clear that Brexit would create problems on the island of Ireland. The eu’s single market had led to the end of all border controls between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic. Brexit risked creating a new north-south border, damaging the peace process in the province. One result has been a spate of books on Brexit by Irish authors. Among the most entertaining was this account from 2018 of how Leave won, by a well-known author and columnist for the Irish Times. He has since published yet another book on Brexit, “Three Years in Hell”.

A Short History of Brexit. By Kevin O’Rourke. Pelican; 400 pages; £9.99

The Brexit negotiations that began in earnest in early 2017 proved tortuous and complex, eventually leading to the end of Theresa May’s government in the summer of 2019 after she repeatedly failed to push her deal through the House of Commons. This account from early 2019 by an economic historian then at Oxford University explains the evolution of the eu and Britain’s belated membership, before moving on to tell the story of the referendum and Mrs May’s negotiating troubles. Its only fault is that it stops at the end of 2018, when it was still not clear whether any deal at all would be done. An update would be valuable, even if the history became (slightly) less short.

More Summer reads
• What if the Ottoman Empire had not collapsed?
•Mindfulness is useless in a pandemic, suggests 1843 magazine
• Our Free Exchange columnist considers just how Dickensian China is
•Six guides to biology as seen at different scales
• What’s at stake in Ukraine is the direction of human history, writes Yuval Noah Harari

The Irish border. By Katy Hayward. SAGE Publications; 112 pages; $14 and £9.99

The most difficult issue in Brexit negotiations was always going to be how to avoid a hard north-south border in Ireland. Theresa May tried to solve it through what became known as the “backstop”, which would have kept the United Kingdom in a customs union with the eu unless alternative arrangements to avoid a border could be found. Boris Johnson then changed what was called the Northern Ireland protocol to create a border in the Irish Sea instead, a decision he is now trying unilaterally to reverse. This short book of 2021 by the best academic expert on the Irish border, a professor at Queen’s University Belfast, admirably tells the story of the border’s role in the Brexit negotiations.

Brexit Unfolded. By Chris Grey. Biteback Publishing; 320 pages; £14.99

One of the biggest problems throughout the Brexit process has been a refusal on all sides to accept that it implies trade-offs. A soft Brexit that would have kept Britain close to the single market would have meant following most eu rules with no say in making them. A hard Brexit, which is what has actually happened, avoids that outcome but at the cost of trade and non-tariff barriers with Britain’s biggest market—as well as a border in the Irish Sea. This well-written polemic by the author of one of the best blogs on the subject, Brexit & Beyond, explains why such trade-offs were always going to mean that Brexit would leave nobody fully satisfied.

Reluctant European. By Stephen Wall. Oxford University Press; 352 pages; £25

One question often asked about Brexit is why Britain is the only member ever seriously to contemplate leaving the eu (though Greenland, a former Danish colony, set a precedent by walking out in 1985). Among several books that try to answer it is this one from 2020 by a former British permanent representative to the eu and later adviser to Tony Blair. Sir Stephen explains how, from 1945 onwards, Britain was unique in Europe in being suspicious of the European project, standing aside when it began in 1950 and joining only with some reluctance in 1973. Margaret Thatcher’s premiership then set the stage for an antagonistic relationship that culminated in the 2016 referendum. Sir Stephen is also the official historian of two earlier books on Britain and the European Community, from which this book draws extensively.

The Worm in the Apple. By Christopher Tugendhat. Haus Publishing; 256 pages $29.95 and £14.99

An oddity about Britain’s relationship with the eu concerns the views of political parties. From the 1960s to the early 1980s, it was the Conservatives who were most pro-European and Labour that was most against membership of what it saw as a capitalist club. Despite the decisive 1975 referendum in favour, Labour fought the 1983 election campaign on a manifesto pledge to withdraw. Yet by the late 1980s it was the Conservative Party that had become the most Eurosceptic. Under Boris Johnson’s leadership it is essentially a pro-Brexit party. In this 2022 book Lord Tugendhat, a former Tory eu commissioner and anti-Brexiteer, explains how and why his party changed. He pins much of the blame on leaders from Harold Macmillan to Edward Heath who never really explained to the party or indeed the public that eu membership necessarily entailed a loss of sovereignty.■

TOPSHOT - 2019年10月28日,反英国脱欧活动人士的欧盟旗帜与支持脱欧活动人士的联盟旗帜在伦敦议会大厦外示威时合影。- 欧盟成员周一同意将英国脱欧推迟三个月,在英国即将因没有离婚协议而崩溃前不到90小时,欧盟成员做出了决定。下一个最后期限是1月31日--尽管欧盟允许在伦敦提前批准退欧协议的情况下,将日期提前。(图片来源:Tolga Akmen/AFP)(图片来源:TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

这篇文章是我们夏季读物系列的一部分。请访问我们的收藏,以发现 "经济学人读物 "指南、特邀文章和更多季节性的分心。

人们一再表示,英国脱离欧盟的行为,即所谓的 "脱欧",是一个过程,而不是一个单一事件。事实也是如此,在2016年6月23日公投后整整六年,留欧和脱欧双方仍然存在激烈的分歧。所有这些都会使人很难理解或跟踪推动英国脱欧的力量或英国与欧盟关系的变化性质。以下是精选的七本书,可能有助于感兴趣的读者了解更多。


当大卫-卡梅伦在2016年2月11日召集公投时,他自信地预期会赢得公投。1975年,哈罗德-威尔逊成功地扭转了公众舆论,并最终赢得了三分之二的多数支持留在俱乐部。这一次,民意调查开始对卡梅伦先生有利。然而,留欧运动从未真正起飞,它过于依赖关于脱欧风险的负面信息,而不是关于欧盟成员利益的任何正面信息。这本关于 "脱欧 "如何获胜的权威性书籍是由《星期日泰晤士报》的政治评论员撰写的。他接着写了 "Fall Out "一书,全面描述了特雷莎-梅艰难的总理任期,第三本书将于11月出版,讲述了鲍里斯-约翰逊在2020年 "完成脱欧 "之前的故事。这是我们对这本书以及其他三本书的评论,来自2017年。

英雄的失败。作者:Fintan O'Toole。阿波罗公司;200页;9.99英镑




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爱尔兰边境。作者:Katy Hayward。SAGE出版社;112页;14美元和9.99英镑

在英国脱欧谈判中,最困难的问题始终是如何避免在爱尔兰出现南北向的硬边界。特雷莎-梅试图通过所谓的 "后盾 "来解决这个问题,这将使英国与欧盟保持关税同盟关系,除非能够找到避免边境的替代安排。鲍里斯-约翰逊随后改变了所谓的北爱尔兰议定书,在爱尔兰海建立了一个边界,而他现在正试图单方面推翻这一决定。这本由爱尔兰边境问题最好的学术专家、贝尔法斯特女王大学教授撰写的2021年短书,令人钦佩地讲述了边境在脱欧谈判中的作用。

Brexit Unfolded. 作者:克里斯-格雷。Biteback出版社;320页;14.99英镑




苹果里的虫子》。作者:Christopher Tugendhat。豪斯出版社;256页29.95美元和14.99英镑

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