This is the post I hoped I wouldn’t be writing – but welcome to Boris Johnson’s “sunlit meadows“.
We’ve been and gone and done it, and now it is all about the consequences. Already today we’ve seen the UK lose a triple-A agency rating, stock markets plummet, the pound at a 31-year low against the dollar (good thing George Osborne calmed the markets this morning, eh?).
Meanwhile, every pathetic racist in the land feels emboldened to make life miserable and uncomfortable for everyone that looks even mildly foreign. Scotland wants out of the UK if it means leaving the EU, as does Gibraltar, as does Northern Ireland.
The wheels are already coming off the Vote Leave promises, there are widespread reports of “buyers remorse” amongst leave voters, and the heroes of the hour (Gove, Johnson Major, Farage, Carswell) are conspicuous by their absence.
And this is T+4 on our “independence day”. In Book of Revelation terms (which is really the only viable comparison we have) we still haven’t got to the end of the letters to the seven churches – and this with the unlikely figure of Nick Clegg as St John of Patmos.
There are so many questions, and so few answers, I feel justified in stepping into the bounds of probabilistic interpretation whilst (hopefully) dropping some constitutional science on those assembled.
What almost certainly won’t happen…
A rerun of the referendum. Yes – there were lies told. But movements legally challenge the referendum result, and/or require a new one (perhaps on modified rules) are doomed to failure. The reason is simple: the referendum wasn’t legally binding. Parliament is sovereign so this and all other UK referendums (with the exception of the 2011 AV referendum which had specific provision in this regard) are advisory only. That said, it is pretty clear advice that would be politically difficult to ignore…
A speedy negotiation and withdrawal. To leave the EU, parliament has to empower the Prime Minister of the day to enact Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). We know now that we won’t have a prime minister (to all sensible intents and purposes) in post until September at the earliest. And even then, both houses of parliament would have to agree (majority) to grant this power.
As both houses have significant majorities that are opposed to leaving the EU, and as a person who may well become prime minister (I know, I’m sorry…) has already expressed a desire to take things slowly this would be no mean accomplishment. And though the EU may demand speedy resolution, not least to settle the uncertainty that will likely affect economies around the world, they have no power to force Britain to declare article 50.
Those who voted to “take control” may reflect here that this is possibly the last point we would have control over our relationship with Europe, so given our complete lack of preparedness to negotiate time is very much not of the essence.
Anarchy in the streets. Angry citizens on both sides will march, chant and campaign. Millions of people will sign entirely useless petitions. Some idiots will be violent and deeply unpleasant, they will be (rightly) arrested and imprisoned. But as a population looks to the government to protect them from the consequences (devaluation, economic slowdown, job losses…) of the referendum it is unlikely to simultaneously enact full communism/a neo-fascist junta.
What probably won’t happen…
Brexit. Boom. I went there. For the reasons given above, I would be hugely surprised if Britain ever uses article 50. And as there are no other ways to leave the EU, that would very much be that. Practically nobody in government wants to actually leave the EU, even Boris has been clear all along he wants to use a vote to leave as a bargaining tool.
As we progress through a long, painful, summer it is likely that public mood will tend towards “bregret” as the bad news continues. A new PM in September may opt to seal the deal via a snap election won on an explicit anti-brexit stand – possibly with some concessions from the EU to sweeten the deal.
Pariah lawmaking. As the international community attempts to navigate what are already difficulty delicate geo-political and economic waters, the need to punish and isolate the UK will be unlikely to be forefront in their mind. The remorseless logic of capital, and the “function” of the market in idenifying and pricing in risk will make things far worse for us Brits – punative policymaking and sanctions from other nation-states or international groupings are very unlikely to.
However, there is a small chance that if the brexit vote sparks a wave of similar referendums in Europe the EU may wish to make an example of the United Kingdom- though I’d guess it is more likely that we would be already be a cautionary tale thanks to the invisible hand.
What probably will happen…
A UK general election in 2016. Yup – I heard you liked politics so I put some politics on your politics. A general election (already hinted at by Cameron and others) is our grand brexit get-out-of-jail-free card, and an incoming prime minister is likely to want a more recent “remain” mandate to counter the “leave” vote.
A new political landscape. Both major parties are fractured and in disarray – the Tory “leave” right has far more in common with UKIP than with the modernising “remain” wing. It’s been the longest relationship break-up in history but I’d be surprised to see an intact Conservative party as the clamour to remain grows.
Ditto, alas, Labour. Corbyn’s determination to hang on till the bitter end highlights the difference between the labour left and the centrists, who themselves probably have more in common with the Liberal Democrats or – indeed (whisper it) – the Tory centre.
What almost certainly will happen…
More chaos: of the economic, cultural and political varieties. Also sporting. Despite these reading almost like predictions no-one has any idea what will happen or when. It will be an unsettled summer reflected in financial markets and political paralysis.
Scottish independence. Sorry, England, but we’re not going to get away with this again. Even without a brexit, it’s clear to everyone that Scotland and England are on very different trajectories and can no longer trust a Westminster Government to act in their best interests.
Stuff that I am interested in but I have literally no answers to yet includes:
- The very dodgy legal ground that depriving individuals of their EU citizen rights would be on. We generally don’t restrict peoples rights (these days, he says, drawing a veil unconvincingly over our nasty imperial past) unless they are criminals.
- Effects on European Central Bank investment: despite us not being in the Eurozone the ECB invests heavily in British industry. Will it continue to during this interregnum?
- The now legendary British Bill of Rights and the UK leaving the ECHR. I’m assuming Brexit panic will give the government chance to finally abandon this insane idea, but I also have a horrible feeling it may be a sop to ardent “give me my country back” folks in the event of a non-brexit. Please no.