This article uncovers the origins of ‘cakeism’ i.e., the notion the UK could keep certain EU benefits or not suffer costs after Brexit. The analysis demonstrates how the assumptions behind cakeism originated after 1992 in policy circles associated with the Conservative Party. They argued that a free-trade alternative to the EU was easy to put in place by simply disaggregating preferred elements of the single market from supranationalism. A Westminster-centric perspective also meant these proto-Brexiters were unable to countenance any potential domestic disruption caused by leaving the EU. During May’s Brexit negotiations, European Research Group MPs resorted to cakeist arguments that reprised the same assumptions about international trade and the unitary nature of the UK state articulated well before 2016. Cakeist ideas helped scupper May’s customs plan and paved the way for Johnson’s free trade deal, thereby demonstrating the enduring influence of the early think-tank debate on leaving the EU.
Cite this article
Glencross, A. (2022). The origins of ‘cakeism’: the British think tank debate over repatriating sovereignty and its impact on the UK’s Brexit strategy. Journal of European Public Policy, 1-18.