British Lawmaker Behind ‘Brexit’ Speaks at Law School

James S. Wharton MP, UK Minister and Introducer of “Brexit” Referendum Bill discusses his legislative decisions and fields questions from the audience at an event hosted by the Journal on Legislation. This event took place Monday Evening at Wasserstein Hall.
About two dozen students gathered at Harvard Law School for a conversation with James Wharton, a Conservative member of the United Kingdom’s Parliament and advocate for the U.K.'s exit from the European Union.

Organized by the Law School Dean of Students’ office and international groups like the European Law Association and China Law Association, the talk was part of a discussion series from the Law School’s Journal on Legislation.

Wharton spoke to attendees about his role in "Brexit," the June vote that decided the U.K. should leave the EU, a political and economic union of 28 European nations, of which 19 share a common currency.

Wharton said he proposed the referendum question to Parliament in May 2013, long before leaving the EU was a mainstream proposal. After the bill did not pass in the House of Lords, Wharton blamed obstructionism from opposing political parties. Then in May 2015, Wharton said, former British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to announce a referendum vote would take place the following year.

In June 2016, 52 percent of voters in a British referendum voted to leave the EU, with some citing a desire to assert the United Kingdom’s independence and to curb immigration from other countries. Cameron announced he would resign shortly after the referendum, and the move will likely reverberate through the economies of the United Kingdom, remaining EU countries, and the United States.


Wharton said that although he expected the talk to focus on comparing British and American politics, he was pleased to advise students on the role of law in creating a more just society.

“[The message I wanted to give], particularly for those who are going to be lawyers, to be judges, to be leaders of industry, this is a place that creates some of the leaders of the future,” he said.

Law students who attended the talk said that even though they had their own opinions about Brexit, they felt that there was value in knowing about different perspectives on British and European politics.

“I think that it is very valuable, even as a [British citizen] studying in the US, to get a British perspective on British and European politics on this side of the Atlantic,” said Samantha R.E. Henderson, a Law School student. “I think that is valuable for the U.S. audience and for a Brit who has been away from Britain for some time now to hear about the developments there.”

Matteo Mantoani, a visiting Ph.D. student from the University of Cambridge, said he disagreed with Wharton’s reasoning, and that Brexit is not in the best interest of the British people or the rest of Europe.

Mantoani called the Brexit decision purely “political,” and said that the country is not prepared to finalize a split from the EU.

“There wasn’t anything planned [in regards to the Leave decision],” Mantoani said.