Michael Dougan: The EU Law Expert Everyone's Turning To Post Brexit
The Debrief: Despite being sick of experts, everyone is searching for EU legal expert Michael Dougan.
Britain is sick of experts – or at least, that was one of the defining sentiments of the EU referendum campaign. 'The people of this country have had enough of experts,' Leave campaigner Michael 'Brutus' Gove told Sky News just three weeks before the vote, after refusing to name a single economist who thought a Leave vote would be a financially smart move. And yet within hours of the polls closing, the British public were frantically, and belatedly, turning to Google for expert advice and opinion on what would actually happen in the event of a Brexit. One such expert is Michael Dougan, an EU legal expert who's this week found himself thrust into the limelight of internet virality like a talking dog or a sneezing baby panda.
Who is Michael Dougan?
So who is this unlikely viral Internet star? Professor Michael Dougan is an academic specialist in EU constitutional law at the University of Liverpool – so before a couple of weeks ago, maybe not the first guy you'd want to chat to at a dinner party. He has a Masters and a PhD from the University of Cambridge, and more than 20 years of professional experience working on the EU. He's previously acted as an advisor to the Cabinet Office, and earlier this week he was called on to give advice to the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee about what the hell is going to happen next. Basically, it's safe to say he knows his shit.
Part of the reason for our sudden interest in Professor Dougan is that a video has been doing the rounds online of a talk he gave before the referendum. Dougan was firmly pro-Remain and, during his talk, accused the Leave campaign of 'dishonesty on an industrial scale' – a comment that was unsurprisingly controversial amongst Leave campaigners.
More significantly, Dougan had plenty to say about why the UK should remain 'one of the leading powers within one of the most important national organisations on the planet', and what to expect in the event of a Brexit vote – beyond the fact that really, 'nobody has a clue'. Despite this uncertainty, Dougan laid out four constitutional challenges that we would – and now do – face following a Brexit vote: there will be a very fast review of the entire UK legal system; the make-up of the UK may change; we'll have to work out our 'future relations' with the EU – which could take up to ten years; and finally, we'll have to wait and see if the rest of the world still wants anything to do with us.
Our prospective next PM Theresa May this week pledged to keep the UK's access to the European single market, but Dougan's viral video explains that keeping our current trading relationship with the EU would mean opting for 'the Norwegian option' – where we'd give up EU membership but remain members of the single market. 'It is a thoroughly unattractive deal,' Dougan said, 'because it basically means that you have to do everything the EU says, but you don't have any influence over the formulation of the rules, and you still have to pay a whopping membership fee for the privilege.' Not only is it a pretty raw deal for us, but, he added: 'it's very unlikely the EU would even offer it to us, primarily because it is absolutely conditional on accepting the full free movement of persons as an integral part of the single market.'
So where does that leave the UK's options going forward? 'If we are not part of the single market anymore we actually don't have an enormous amount of bargaining power… [and] other countries have already made it very clear that they have no real interest in trying to reach a bilateral agreement with the UK until they know what our trading relationship will be with the EU,' Dougan explained.
His warning to the Treasury Select Committee this week was in a similar vein – if we want any serious international free trade agreements, the UK will still be bound by international court judgements. It does all beg the question 'what exactly have we taken back control of?' In a follow-up video posted online last week, Dougan described Leave campaigners as 'criminally irresponsible' and said they have 'inflicted quite untold damage upon the quality of our national democracy'.
Predictably, opinion is divided on Professor Michael Dougan. His straight-talking, evidence-based takedowns and analysis have proved popular with anti-Brexit campaigners across social media, who believe the Leave victory was won on false pretences.
"It's means less influence, less power, more isolation & more vulnerability" Michael Dougan is my hero. Another great video, give it a watch— Ruth Eardley (@rutheardley) July 1, 2016
Just watched the House of Commons meeting for the last 2 hours. I think we have found the best candidate as new PM: Michael Dougan.— Marianna D'arcangelo (@Marianna_Mia_DA) July 5, 2016
Michael Dougan University Of Liverpool
However his videos have also received a backlash from leave voters, with some accusing him of having his 'snout in the EU trough' over an EU grant that was awarded for his work 10 years ago. Dougan clarified, in a video and statement published on the University of Liverpool website: 'I'm an employee of the University of Liverpool, my entire salary is paid by the University of Liverpool, and the University of Liverpool does not receive a penny of external funding in order to pay that salary… In 2006, the University of Liverpool was awarded a Jean Monnet Chair – a form of EU grant – consisting of €36,000. Under the terms of the grant, part of the money was spent on a major academic conference, the outputs from which were published by the usual process of international peer review. The remaining funds were spent on general teaching costs.'
Whatever you think of his credentials, one thing's for sure: experts like Professor Dougan are going to be seriously important and seriously in demand over the coming months and years, as the UK tries to figure out its new position within Europe and the world. Post-Brexit Britain feels wobbly and uncertain - Who will be in government? What on earth is going on with our opposition? How will migration and the economy be affected? - it's hardly surprising that people of all political persuasions are turning to Google for answers and solutions. Perhaps, when the shit actually hits the fan, we're not so sick of experts after all.
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