Brexit may have a surprising potential to animate European Legal Studies as a field of legal enquiry. Never has the demand for European legal expertise been higher than it is now as we come to terms with the complexities of the process from withdrawing from the EU.

In a truly significant way, disentangling the domestic administration of European policies from EU and cross-national networks, committees and agencies dramatizes the transformation of state power that has been undertaken as the EU has built its Single Market and extended its influence in an increasingly wide field of policies. In so doing, the ways in which nation states govern through Europe – as well as being governed by Europe – is revealed.

Perhaps as significantly, Brexit requires us to respond to what we actually mean by ‘Europe’ and the ‘European’ in European Legal Studies. If we stand back from the hubris of treating the EU as a synonym for Europe, and of valorising European Union law over other sources of law, then European Legal Studies can genuinely claim to be a field of study that offers the potential for an analysis of law in multiple locations within an expansive European legal landscape.

Indeed, Brexit is an opportunity to understand and analyse how law shapes different forms and models of cooperation among European states. In so doing, it opens a window on the capacity of the EU to exert influence through its external governance on non-EU states within its neighbourhood.

There is a risk, however, that we end up conceptualising Brexit in purely European economic trade terms and bracket off other important dimensions of the experience of law in Europe. Reducing European Legal Studies to a form of economic trade law would be to ignore a significant human dimension to the story of legal change in Europe. Indeed, it would be paradoxical if the movements of people around Europe – often cited as a prime cause of anxiety about the demands of EU membership – and the legal effects such migration produces, were to be anywhere other than at the heart of European Legal Studies.

How EU law is taught and with what resources presents an interesting challenge for publishers of legal texts as they reflect on Brexit. One strategy is simply to add in relevant Brexit materials but otherwise to maintain intact well-regarded and much-used resources. And in that respect it is worth keeping in mind that whatever the existential crisis that Brexit might create for both the UK and the EU, for twenty-seven other EU Member States, life carries on and the EU will be studied in much the same way after Brexit as it was before.

But in destabilising and unsettling orthodoxies, Brexit is also a time to innovate. We need to continue to reimagine European Legal Studies as an expansive and inclusive space for reflection on the challenges facing Europe and the diverse legal contexts in which those challenges are addressed.

Kenneth A Armstrong is Editor in Chief of the Cambridge Yearbook of European Legal Studies and author of Brexit Time: Leaving the EU – Why, How and When? (Cambridge University Press, 2017)

You can find a collection of Brexit-related research materials on Cambridge Core.

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