Editor’s Note: This post is an adapted version of a short-piece prepared by the author for a policy-report by the think-thank Britain in Europe based at Brunel University London. The report will be presented on the 25th October at a high-level meeting at the British Academy and commented upon by Dominic Grieve, former attorney general of the United Kingdom (2010-2014).
Echoing a widespread sense of almost existential malaise across the ‘invisible college’ of public international lawyers regarding ‘Brexit’, Judge James Crawford of the bench of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and until very recently the Whewell Professor of International Law at the University of Cambridge, offered a de minimis definition of international law in times of crisis at the opening ceremony of the 12th Annual Conference of the European Society of International Law (ESIL). International law, Judge Crawford said with a fine sense of irony, is ‘all that remains’ when ‘Brexit’ happens, or when Donald Trump wins the U.S.’ Presidential elections.
Internationalists by training and vocation, public international lawyers have not, for their greatest part, been too fond (to put it lightly) of the outcome of the Brexit referendum. But, is this gremial intellectual ‘malaise’ really justified from the perspective of the strictly professional academic interests of the UK academically-based ‘invisible college’ of international lawyers? After all, most international law scholars based in academic institutions across the UK received the news of the outcome of the EU referendum with, at least, a pinch of ironical relief at not having made European Union Law their life’s profession. The awareness that the UK was to be in an even greater need of international legal expertise in the years to come may have added further reassurance to those concerned by their job security and perhaps, overall their life-project in a country which, worn out by years of austerity, had just turned its back on what for all its flaws remains on paper the most advanced value-based and peaceful historical experiment of legal and political integration that a History littered with projects of conquests and subjugation of peoples in the name of religion, imperialist designs and totalitarian ideologies had ever witnessed. International law is, at the end of the day, ‘all that remains’ to replace the law of the European Union as legal vernacular for this country to lay new foundations of its ‘global’ legal relationship with the rest of the world. But, can the UK truly count on some sense of academic loyalty on the part of non-British UK-based international lawyers, many of whom, moreover, feel particularly estranged amidst an extended public rhetoric of ultra-nationalist overtones as EU nationals in a country that will soon not be part of the ‘EU family of nations’? What might appear prima facie to be a question primarily addressed to interrogate the theoretical possibility that many non-British nationals (both EU and non-EU citizens alike) would be rethinking pursuing their academic careers in British universities in a post-Brexit scenario, has, however, gained an unexpected, and slightly disquieting added dimension in recent weeks. According to the British media, indeed:
‘foreign academics from the LSE acting as expert advisers to the UK government were told they would not be asked to contribute to government work and analysis on Brexit because they are not British nationals’