Tag: EU referendum

A second referendum?: The Tories continue to fiddle while Britain stumbles into the abyss

By Daniel Margrain

Last Wednesday afternoon I took the Eurostar from a grey and dismal London to a sunny Paris. I decided that I would try to ignore the news while I was away. However, by Friday, temptation got the better of me. While sitting at a restaurant table in the small picturesque Parisian commuter-belt town town of St Germaine en Laye enjoying my lunch, I asked the waiter if he knew what the result of the EU referendum was. He expressed his shock at the decision of the British public to renounce their membership of the 28 member club. “That’s it”, he said, “the European project is dead”. I asked him whether he thought that this was a good thing or a bad thing? “It’s a bad day for Europe”, he exclaimed. “I’m not sure the project can continue to be run effectively with Britain gone but your heart was never really in it anyway”, he continued.

He claimed that Britain had already negotiated for itself numerous concessions and any more would have effectively made the Federalist vision for Europe he was in favour of, a redundant concept. The British position he said was selfish in as much as the government appeared reluctant to use its economic muscle as leverage in order to help improve the living standards of the working classes within poorer nations of the EU which, according to him, was the ethos at the heart of the project. In other words, for the poorer nations to gain something, and for the European project to work, as he saw it, it was necessary for richer nations like Britain, to concede some financial ground at the expense of the poorer nations.

He blamed David Cameron for triggering “an unnecessary referendum based upon unfair criticism of the EU and many years of misinformation about how it actually works”, which in turn was perpetuated by some of the most right-wing media in the whole of Europe. He also claimed that vast swaths of working class people were further disorientated by some political commentators and politician’s on the left of the spectrum who he said, “ought to have known better” than, for example, to effectively blame immigrant workers for allegedly undercutting British workers. All of this, he claimed, had eventually – from a Brexit perspective – “bore fruit”.

It was difficult for me to disagree with any of this. The news that the British people had decided to leave the EU appeared to have been as much of a shock to him as it was to me. The statistics show that the demographic of those who voted to leave were mainly the elderly age group and those who voted to remain were from the younger age group. However, the elderly will not be around for long compared to the young. It therefore, follows, the former will experience the consequence of a decision that they made to a far lesser degree than the latter who didn’t.

It does seem strange that an ageing population who were allowed to vote but statistically are less able to make an informed decision with regards to issues that have long-term ramifications, are considered to be a better judge for what is best for the country than people who are, say, 16 or 17 years old but are prevented from voting on something that will effect them to a far greater degree and for far longer. For this and other reasons, it makes sense why younger people might be furious with older people. The latter, for example, have overseen the ruination of the environment that includes the spreading of poisons throughout the atmosphere, sea and soil. They have also overseen climate change, the ruination of entire economies and been at the forefront of the shift in wealth from the many to the few, which will mean that the generation to come will not only be poorer than the preceding one, but will die sooner.

In short, the older generation have run the world for their own selfish short-term gain. The younger generation are suffering, and will continue to suffer, the consequences wrought by a post-war generation that were virtually guaranteed socioeconomic protections that will be denied to their young counterparts. This includes the concept of a job for life, free higher education and gold-plated, index-linked pensions that the elderly have taken for granted. Relatively speaking, the post war-generation have never had it so good, although one will be hard pressed to draw such a conclusion from the mainstream media. And to top it all, by disproportionately voting to leave, the older generation have now given a future to the young that they specifically do not want – problems that will be further compounded by the imminent growth in automation and increasing global competition.

What is also bizarre is that countries and regions like London, Scotland and Gibralter wanted to stay in the EU within a context in which some of the most deprived parts of England and Wales were intent on leaving. In Boston, in North East England, for example, 75.6 per cent voted to leave the EU. Paradoxically, given that Brexit means that no more EU funds will be forthcoming to these deprived regions, it’s the poorest who will be most adversely affected as a result of this decision to leave. Consequently, it would appear that the poorest have been persuaded to make the decision to leave for the worse reasons, predicated largely on lies. These lies included the amount of money they were told the government spends on the EU and what amount, by contrast, it spends domestically.

The leave campaign also understated the positives of continued membership in terms of the amount of funds Britain receives from the EU as well as insisting that by leaving the British people would have the prospect of being surrounded by fewer foreigners. On all these points, and more, the public were lied to by the leave campaign. In terms of the second of these issues, for example, UKIPs Nigel Farage has already back-tracked in relation to his assertion that the £350 million a week that he wrongly claimed was spent on the EU would, instead, be spent on the NHS. The more likely scenario is the correct £161 million net figure will be used to pay for more tax cuts for the rich. Apparently leave have deleted their promises from their website. This is a useful aide-memoire.

Almost a week has passed since the referendum result was announced and the Conservative government under PM David Cameron is in disarray. With the PM still not having made any definitive legal commitment to leave, the political consequences for the remaining 27 members is far from certain. With Britain’s new status outside the EU yet to be legally formalized, its legal sequestration remains uncertain. For all those who thought that the Brexit vote would have meant a hasty political decision to leave based on a legal determination, might need to think again. As I said in my previous post, in legal terms, the referendum is advisory not mandatory. What happens next is a matter of politics, not law – a determination that’s dependent upon whether the government decides to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Even though I supported the remain camp, I respect the democratic decision the British people made when they voted to leave. Any decision to either seriously delay invoking Article 50, or any attempt at backtracking on the referendum result would, in my view, be totally unacceptable. Nevertheless, delaying the democratic decision of the majority is what the government appears to be intent on doing. Seemingly, this will involve the implementation of a possible second referendum. The government intends to respond to calls for it within the next few days. This will likely take the form of a debate in parliament following the signing of a government petition by four million people to that affect.

In many other democracies throughout the world, four million signatures would guarantee a vote on the issue. But in Britain, a similar amount of signatures only guarantees that the government will consider talking about the possibility of a vote. The governments petition committee is currently considering the protest following a meeting they held yesterday (June 28). The petition entitled EU Referendum Rules Triggering A Second EU Referendum, reads:

“We the undersigned call upon HM government to implement a rule that if the remain or leave vote is less than 60 per cent based on a turnout less than 75 per cent, there should be another referendum.”

Will the government give in to the demands set by the petition and thereby allow a second referendum to take place?

The wider issue seems to be that unless the government can find a way of presenting simple solutions to a complex set of problems, people on the whole will not understand them. However, the problem is there are no simple solutions to such complex problems. Ultimately, David Cameron will go down in history as the man who set in motion the chaos and uncertainty that will almost certainly ensue in the coming days, weeks, months and possibly years.

Because Cameron attempted to assert his authority over the Tory party, he assumed that by offering the people a referendum and winning it, would cement this authority and garner the UKIP vote as a consequence. But by losing, he has bolstered the xenophobic fringe within the UKIP and Tory parties, unleashed the potential for a rise in racist attacks and hastened the rush for Scotland to break from the UK. But perhaps most significantly of all, is that a final decision to leave, will prompt the 60 per cent of companies outside the EU who have their EU HQs in the UK and who trade with the EU, to re-locate elsewhere. If you headed a company that was based outside the EU but was big enough to have a EU HQs and you selected to be in a country that is now potentially going to be outside the EU, what would you do?

It’s a no brainer. You would have to up-sticks and move to the EU. Having an EU HQs in a country that is no longer in the EU, makes about as much sense as having a US HQs in London. So in the event of Britain definitively leaving the EU both politically and legally, tens of thousands of jobs will be lost. This is a bare minimum of the chaos that is likely to occur set against a backdrop of increasing resentment, suspicion, xenophobia and racism. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride ahead.

A victory for Brexit is unlikely to change anything in the near future

By Daniel Margrain

 

For all those who thought that a Brexit vote in Thursday’s (June 23) highly anticipated and drawn -out referendum campaign will result in closure, might need to think again. In legal terms, the referendum is advisory rather than mandatory. What happens next is a matter of politics, not law – a determination that’s dependent upon whether the government decides to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

To put it another way, the government doesn’t necessarily have to pay attention to what the British public says. What will happen on Thursday is that we, the British electorate, will effectively be advising and giving our opinion which doesn’t make the decision to leave, if that is indeed the outcome, necessarily legal. If we vote in a way that Osborne and Cameron disagree with, the government will almost certainly reconsider the result, particularly if the outcome is close.

Say, hypothetically, the turnout is 50 per cent and 51 per cent of that 50 per cent voted to leave, it would mean that 25.5 per cent of the electorate would have made the decision to leave which would adversely impact on the remaining 74.5 per cent. In other words, if something similar to this hypothetical situation did arise it would not, the government could argue, be indicative of a mandate to leave. Given how close the result is predicted to be, the vote tomorrow is unlikely to be the end of the matter, but merely the beginning of a long and drawn out process that will likely continue until the electorate arrives at a decision that Cameron and Osborne regard as acceptable.

As the Financial Times puts it:

What happens next in the event of a vote to leave…. will come down to what is politically expedient and practicable. The UK government could seek to ignore such a vote; to explain it away and characterise it in terms that it has no credibility or binding effect (low turnout may be such an excuse). Or they could say it is now a matter for parliament, and then endeavour to win the parliamentary vote. Or ministers could try to re-negotiate another deal and put that to another referendum. There is, after all, a tradition of EU member states repeating referendums on EU-related matters until voters eventually vote the “right” way.

What matters in law is when and whether the government invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This is the significant “red button”. Once the Article 50 process is commenced then Brexit does become a matter of law, and quite an urgent one. It would appear this process is (and is intended to be) irreversible and irrevocable once it starts. But invoking Article 50 is a legally distinct step from the referendum result — it is not an obligation.

There are three points of interest here in respect of any withdrawal from the EU by the UK.

First, it is a matter for a member state’s “own constitutional requirements” as to how it decides to withdraw. The manner is not prescribed: so it can be a referendum, or a parliamentary vote, or some other means. In the UK, it would seem that some form of parliamentary approval would be required — perhaps a motion or resolution rather than a statute. The position, however, is not clear and the UK government has so far been coy about being specific.

Second, the crucial act is the notification by the member state under Article 50(2). That is the event which commences the formal process, which is then intended to be effected by negotiation and agreement. There is no (express) provision for a member state to withdraw from the process or revoke the notification. Once the notification is given, the member state and the EU are stuck with it.

And third, there is a hard deadline of two years. This is what gives real force to Article 50. The alternative would be the prospect of a never ending story of rounds of discussions and negotiations. Once notification is given, then the member state is out in two years, unless this period is extended by unanimous agreement. It is possible that such unanimity may be forthcoming – but this would be outside of the power of the member state. Once the button is pushed, the countdown cannot just be switched off by a member state saying it has changed its mind, or by claiming that the Article 50 notification was just a negotiation tactic all along. That will not wash.

This said, what is created by international agreement can be undone by international agreement. Practical politicians in Brussels may come up with some muddling fudge which holds off the two year deadline. Or there could be some new treaty amendment. These conveniences cannot, however, be counted on. The assumption must be that once the Article 50 notification is given, the UK will be out of the EU in two years or less.

What happens between a Leave vote and any Article 50 notification will be driven by politics. The conventional wisdom is that, of course, a vote for Brexit would have to be respected. (This is the same conventional wisdom which told us that, of course, Jeremy Corbyn would not be elected Labour leader and that, of course, Donald Trump would not be the Republican nominee.) To not do so would be “unthinkable” and “political suicide” and so on.

And if there is a parliamentary vote before any Article 50 notification then there is the potential irony of those seeking to defend parliamentary sovereignty demanding that an extra-parliamentary referendum be treated as binding. But it must be right that the final decision is made by parliament, regardless of what the supposed defenders of parliamentary sovereignty say.

What is certain is that if there is an Article 50 notification then there will be immense legal work to be done. Over 40 years of law-making — tens of thousands of legal instruments — will have to be unpicked and either placed on some fresh basis or discarded with thought as to the consequences. The UK government has depended since 1972 — indeed it has over-depended — on it being easy to implement law derived from the EU. The task of repeal and replacement will take years to complete, if it is ever completed. Even if the key legislation — especially the European Communities Act 1972 — is repealed there will have to be holding and saving legislation for at least a political generation.

A vote for Brexit will not be determinative of whether the UK will leave the EU. That potential outcome comes down to the political decisions which then follow before the Article 50 notification. The policy of the government (if not of all of its ministers) is to remain in the EU. The UK government may thereby seek to put off the Article 50 notification, regardless of political pressure and conventional wisdom.

There may already be plans in place to slow things down and to put off any substantive decision until after summer. In turn, those supporting Brexit cannot simply celebrate a vote for leave as a job done — for them the real political work begins in getting the government to make the Article 50 notification as soon as possible with no further preconditions.

On the day after a vote for Brexit, the UK will still be a member state of the EU. All the legislation which gives effect to EU law will still be in place. Nothing as a matter of law changes in any way just because of a vote to Leave. What will make all the legal difference is not a decision to leave by UK voters in a non-binding advisory vote, but the decision of the prime minister on making any Article 50 notification.

And what the prime minister will do politically after a referendum vote for Brexit is, at the moment, as unknown as the result of the referendum itself.

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