University of Bath academic experts explore the rise of far-right politics, the economic challenges, the impact on Northern Ireland, and what it all means for the upcoming general election.

Dr Milena Romano from the Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies studies European Politics including European integration and foreign policy, as well as how politics can affect education and daily life.

Eight years on from Brexit, what are your reflections?

Eight years on, the UK has lost its privileged spot in Europe. Brexit hasn’t ruined the UK-EU relationship, but it has changed it.

As we approach the General Election, it’s crucial to understand where this relationship is headed. The Lib Dems propose rebuilding trust through constructive dialogue, even rejoining the single market. This puts pressure on Labour to clarify its stance on a closer UK-EU relationship.

If the UK seeks closer cooperation, it must focus on shared interests like security and climate change, which are key priorities for Brussels.

In academia, the UK is now back in Horizon which is a step towards strengthening common research channels but has withdrawn from the Erasmus+ scheme. Leaving the student exchange programme is a big disadvantage for future generations.

Dr George Newth from the Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies studies populism, regionalism and the far right.

Was the British vote to leave the European Union a far-right breakthrough?

Brexit campaigning helped the far-right push their agenda into the mainstream. We saw immigration controls, hard borders, and defence of ‘British culture’ became normalised, accelerating a trend already seen in the EU and USA. Mainstream political parties and media outlets have contributed to this shift. For example, Rishi Sunak’s ‘Stop the Boats’ campaign and the Rwanda policy, echo far-right ‘repatriation’ campaigns. Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, speaking at the National Conservative conference, parroted racist Great Replacement conspiracy theories. Ideas once considered extreme and outside Overton Window have become more widely accepted since the Brexit vote.

What has been the impact of Brexit on Far-Right Groups in the UK?

Brexit has had a mixed-impact on far-right political parties which operate between the extreme and mainstream of UK politics.

While UKIP, Nigel Farage’s former party, is barely present with 20 candidates in the upcoming election, his new project, Reform, is fielding over 500 candidates. The Tories have themselves to blame for trying to fight Reform on far-right issues. When this happens, rather than challenging their reactionary narrative, the far-right always gains ground.

Fringe extreme right organisations and individuals have become more emboldened. Thomas Mair, who murdered Labour MP Jo Cox shortly before the referendum, shouted ‘Britain First’, an extreme right group’s name. Inspired by Mair, National Action planned to murder Labour MP Rosie Cooper in 2017, leading to their classification as a terrorist organisation. Figures like Tommy Robinson have gained media attention post-Brexit and instances of racist violence have surged since the Brexit vote.

Where do we go from here?

At both the national (UK) and supranational (EU) levels, we need a serious conversation about the kind of societies we want for future generations. Instead of pandering to the far-right, governments should focus on radical change addressing racial, social, economic, and gender inequalities. These issues existed when the UK was in the EU, but Brexit has worsened them by emboldening reactionary politicians and commentators.

Re-entering the EU seems unlikely despite the growing consensus that Brexit isn't working. The silence from Conservatives and Labour on Brexit in their campaigns is telling. This lack of alternative on the left opens the door for far-right parties like Reform to gain ground in the coming years.

Dr Charles Larkin from the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) studies public policy, IMF Bailouts the Eurozone political economy and Ireland.

8 years on from Brexit what are your reflections?

Eight years after the Brexit referendum, the UK's departure from the EU has hurt its economic performance. According to the OBR, the long-term productivity of the UK will be reduced by 4%, exacerbating pre-existing issues. Brexit also undermined the UK's fiscal stability, necessitating drastic actions by the Bank of England.

Politically, the UK has lost influence in the EU and beyond. The EU continues to shape global norms without the UK's input, shifting legal leadership to Ireland. The UK's political capital, eroded during Brexit negotiations, has been partially restored by its support for Ukraine but remains diminished in global affairs.

Is Brexit “done” for Northern Ireland?

The Windsor Framework addressed the NI Protocol, but Brexit disrupted Northern Ireland's delicate political balance. The Good Friday Agreement relies on EU law, making a complete severance from the EU unsustainable. The DUP's support for Brexit and Sinn Fein's opposition increased tensions, now eased with Michelle O'Neill and Emma Little-Pengelly as First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Upcoming elections in London and Dublin could reopen Brexit discussions, especially if Sinn Fein gains power and pushes for a border poll. A Fine Gael-led coalition, however, would likely avoid this.

Where do we go from here?

If the new government adopts a more open approach on negotiating a trade treaty with the EU, the UK could see improved trade relations. This would temper the 15% long-term reduction in UK-EU trade projected by the OBR. Embracing the EU as a rules-based trading bloc would help foster deeper relations. Geopolitical shifts will align EU and UK interests in security and foreign affairs. While the new European Commission's priorities are still unclear, the European Parliament's likely shift away from green issues toward security will bring the EU and UK closer together.