Recap: Brexit with Peter Rutland, June 2019, and July Lunch Discussion

Dear Members,

The final meeting of the 2018-2019 Speaker Season brought us some clarity on the origins of the Brexit referendum, even as the final outcome of this story remains to be determined. Our speaker was Peter Rutland, Professor of Government at Wesleyan University. Professor Rutland was eminently qualified to speak on the subject for (at least) three reasons:

  1. he is a historian with the skills to evaluate complex public policy issues,
  2. he was visiting the University of Manchester at the time of the referendum and so saw events unfold in real-time, and, finally,
  3. he was born and raised in England and so could provide the kind of insights often best delivered by a native.

Professor Rutland explained the context in which the Brexit Referendum was held in 2016 – a perception that the UK was giving more to the European Union (EU) than it was getting in return, along with concerns regarding an increase in migration of refugees from the Middle East and Africa passing up through Europe and heading to British mainland. The UK Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, decided to call a referendum to – what he thought – would cement a pro-EU position by his government, enabling him to resist efforts by a developing anti-EU English nationalist element. The referendum that was put to UK residents was a straightforward question: do you want to remain part of the EU, or leave that union? (hence the “Remain” and “Leave” campaigns). Surprisingly, through leverage of digital information and social media – not to mention an advertising campaign that played fast and loose with the facts! – the Leave vote won. Professor Rutland described the mood in Britain at the time of the referendum, the problem with the way in which the referendum question was posed (too simplistic, with no thought given to how a Brexit would be achieved), and how the story has evolved over the past three years. He provided a break-down of the vote, showing how it varied across different regions, and how this has implications for the continued unity of the UK.

For those of you wishing to read more about the presentation, see the interview with Professor Rutland in CT Examiner at this link:

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

July Lunch Discussion

As a follow-up to our June meeting, I hosted the first SECWAC Lunch Group discussion on the topic of “Brexit and the Legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles” on July 12th at the Old Lyme Country Club. Fifteen of us gathered to discuss some newspaper and magazine articles on the subject (see attached document for full details), with yours truly providing the context with respect to twentieth century Irish history, and especially the Troubles (1968-1998). Concern for continued peace in Northern Ireland is linked to the implications of a “hard Brexit” (the UK exiting the EU with little agreement in place) for the border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland (which remains within the EU). Part of the Good Friday Agreement which ended 30 years of war in Northern Ireland in 1998, and which was ably negotiated by Senator George Mitchel with the support of President Bill Clinton, requires that the border remains open and in a non-militarized state (unlike its status during The Troubles). No doubt we will revisit Brexit in 2020 as the fog clears … assuming it does!

What’s Next!

The 2019-2020 season will kick-off in September with 3 meetings: our regular monthly meeting on September 17th at Connecticut College, when returning SECWAC speaker Gordon Chang will provide an update on US-China relations (“America’s Grandest Wager: China”). We will also initiate two new programs, both part of a new Community Partnership with Essex Meadows (Essex, CT). On September 12th, Sydney Williams will present his new book “Dear Mary: Letters Home from the 10th Mountain Division, 1944-1945” at Essex Meadows, while on September 26th we will collaborate with the Essex Meadows GREAT DECISIONS Program to present Will Kneerim and Mohammed Hamou speaking on “Coming to America: A Refugee Story”. Note that both these new programs take place at 3 pm.

We have plans for other new programs and collaborations in 2019-2020, including a new “Quarterly Colloquium” series, and a new Community Partnership collaboration with the Global Islamic Studies program at Connecticut College.

We look forward to seeing you at a busy 2019-2020 SECWAC Season.


Paul Nugent,
Executive Director & Program Committee Chair
Southeast Connecticut World Affairs Council


Mission Statement

The mission of the Southeast Connecticut World Affairs Council (SECWAC) is to foster an understanding of issues of foreign policy and international affairs by study, debate, and educational programming, primarily through a Speakers Series of 8 to 10 monthly meetings.