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After Brexit: A Conversation with Baroness Catherine Ashton

In the aftermath of the historic vote in Britain, the referendum in favor of leaving the European Union has now led to concerted efforts by the Conservative government under Teresa May to begin the process of withdrawal from one of the most interconnected international institutions in the world. What will Britain's future relationship be with the EU? What will be the nature of Britain's trade relations with the rest of the world? What are the security implications of Brexit, for the UK, EU and the transatlantic relationship? The Wilson Center's Director, President and CEO discussed these and other questions with Baroness Catherine Ashton, the former High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Date & Time

Oct. 26, 2016
1:30pm – 2:30pm ET


6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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Baroness Catherine Ashton and Wilson Center Director Jane Harman have a wide-ranging conversation and lively Q&A with the audience on what led to the Brexit vote, the future of Britain’s trading relationship with the EU, immigration, trade, the developing world, and the future of the US-Russia relationship, among other topics. 

Key Quotes from the Event:

Catherine Ashton on what led to Brexit:

“There are an awful lot of people who feel, with pretty good reason, that all of the things that we value about the international connected nature of our lives has not benefitted them. They don’t feel that they get the benefits from trade… They feel that their wages have not increased… It's not people being irrational, it's people who from their own life experiences don't see life in the way we see life.”

Catherine Ashton on the developing world:

“[The developing world’s opportunity] is our opportunity. Where countries are able to grow and develop they become our trading partners, we sell them our things, we make jobs domestically. The jobs that will be created in America will be partly created because you’ve got trading relationships with nations whose economies are up and growing. And if we have a lot of young people we need to find things for them to do because there isn’t really a very good alternative to having a huge number of young people with nothing to do and no future.”

Catherine Ashton on representative democracy:

“People are asked to make decisions on things that they’ve actually elected representatives to do, and they should expect those representatives to become experts and do it, and the representatives need to take responsibility along with governments for explaining what on Earth it’s all about. It’s no good me sitting here saying ‘trade is a good thing’ if you’ve just lost your job in a local steel factory because steel you think is being produced and imported from China. We have to get much, much better at explaining it, and not treating people like idiots, by the way, in the process, but being real, and realistic about people’s right to know what it is people do on their behalf.”

Jane Harman in response on representative democracy:

“Leadership, those elected, and actually those appointed, have to step up and lead. Being a leader often means people get angry with you. But hey, guess what? If you have a vision to go forward and you explain yourself clearly you might not win but you certainly will get respect. And too often, at least in this country I would say this on a bipartisan basis: we have survivors, not leaders. And the goal is to win the next election, not to lead. And I don’t think that’s a worthy enough goal.”

Catherine Ashton on being the first British woman EU commissioner:

“I was the first woman ever sent by Britain to be a commissioner [to the EU], and I was the first ever woman trade commissioner, and I was the first ever woman high representative… so the first Brit, as woman, but I’m also the last. And as a woman, I’m used to being the first but I’m not used to being last.”

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Hosted By

Global Europe Program

The Global Europe Program addresses vital issues affecting the European continent, U.S.-European relations, and Europe’s ties with the rest of the world. It does this through scholars-in-residence, seminars, policy study groups, media commentary, international conferences and publications. Activities cover a wide range of topics, from the role of NATO, the European Union and the OSCE to European energy security, trade disputes, challenges to democracy, and counter-terrorism. The program investigates European approaches to policy issues of importance to the United States, including globalization, digital transformation, climate, migration, global governance, and relations with Russia and Eurasia, China and the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa.  Read more

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