The political dilemma for parliament after a vote for Brexit
Your report on the consequences of a leave vote (, 7 June) quotes a pro-European MP saying “We would have to respect the mandate of the referendum”. But it is quite unclear what that mandate might be, as the referendum question does not specify the range of alternatives to full EU membership should the UK vote to leave. Until parliament has determined whether, for example, it wishes the UK to remain in the European Economic Area, it would be inappropriate for David Cameron to formally notify the EU of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU. A leave vote would therefore need to be followed by an emergency debate in parliament from Monday 27 June onwards about the UK’s withdrawal options, where the most likely outcome, as you indicate, would be overwhelming support for the UK to remain in EEA, which would of course outrage hard-line Brexiters in the Conservative party.
At the same time another more fundamental problem might arise in the wake of a UK referendum leave vote. What if , Scotland and Wales vote remain, their MPs propose an amendment to parliament’s EEA motion in support of the UK’s continued membership of the EU, and pro-EU English MPs vote with them to pass their amendment? The UK would be plunged into a full-blown constitutional crisis concerning the very sovereignty of parliament.
• With the polls indicating that the possibility of a vote to leave the EU is looming larger, it is natural that thoughts should turn to the issue of how we would cope with the changes that would ensue. The post-Brexit changes to laws, government spending, taxes, prices, jobs, etc would be significant and would affect everyone in the UK, many of them for the worse. I believe therefore that we would need a coalition government for a few years during the process until things have settled down. This coalition should include all the major UK political parties. It would be quite wrong if the important decisions about post-Brexit changes are made by one political group, especially the relatively rightwing faction who are driving the leave campaign.
• Jim Lynch (, 3 June) speculates that a vote for Brexit could be followed by an early general election, and that a possible Labour government would have to respect the referendum result and lead the subsequent negotiations.
Any general election held before mid-2018 would take place while the UK was still a member of the EU. By that time the “economic shock” which nobody denies would happen, and the likely long-drawn-out negotiations, may well have caused many leave voters to regret their decision. It would be open to any party, or any combination of party groupings, to campaign on a promise to abandon the process of leaving, whether with or without a referendum (and MPs are currently more than 2-1 in favour of remain). If a new parliament resulted in a majority committed to such a pledge, the principle of the sovereignty of the UK parliament, which Brexiters are so fond of emphasising, would have to supersede any previous decision.
What is clear is that a vote for Brexit would lead to a prolonged period of economic and political uncertainty, which would inevitably detract from tackling the domestic issues that most concern the public.
• Jane Ghosh (, 7 June) makes a good point, and it is interesting to take it a step further. What if, after narrowly losing to the Brexiters, David Cameron resigns, calls an election, Labour wins by a narrow majority, and the new government is called upon to take us out of Europe which it patently doesn’t want to do.
Which takes priority? The referendum vote to exit Europe or the democratically elected government’s decision to remain? Or do we have another referendum? Or another election? Would it not be better to leave things to the government we have elected? If the prime minister cannot deal with his party, that is for him to solve or give up his position, not involve the whole country in deciding “in or out”. In any case it will not solve the problems in the Conservative party, for if the answer is to stay, the Brexiters will not rest until they have called for yet another referendum.
• Polly Toynbee is right (, 7 June). Brexiters can be persuaded if they realise what British politics could be like after a vote to leave. Here’s a realistic scenario.
On 24 June Brexit begins. Cameron resigns. becomes prime minister, Michael Gove becomes chancellor. With Ukip’s role over, Nigel Farage and company join the Tory party. Scotland leaves Britain. The rump gets a new name (as it can’t be called the UK) – KEWNI – and a new flag.
Anti-democratic developments begun under the pre-Brexit government are extended. The Tories form KEWNI’s governments for decades to come. The post-EU economic shock is compounded by the structural problems derived from KEWNI’s dysfunctional capitalism (low productivity, weak innovation etc) and its semi-feudal state. Excluded from the European single market, KEWNI is forced closer to the US and China. Having no choice, it accepts a version of the TTIP with the US. Having shunned the EU’s collective sovereignty, it has no power to insist on safeguards. US companies begin to take over the NHS; Chinese companies, manufacturing and real estate.
Accelerated economic decline inevitably follows. The Johnson/Gove response is even more austerity. The xenophobia currently directed at EU migrants becomes directed inward – against people of colour. Inequality and poverty escalate and dispossessed KEWNIs mobilise in struggle. The government response is repression, both covert and overt. Gradually, KEWNI becomes dominated by an ultra-rightwing nationalism: a version of fascism with “gentlemanly” English characteristics.
Is this what Brexiters seek for our country?
• The British, egged on by politicians and the press, are being pretty parochial about their decision whether or not to leave the EU. Yet there are several hundred million people on the other side of what we choose to call the English Channel for whom our decision is at least as important as it is for the British. If the decision is to leave, for instance, while some might be heartily relieved to be shot of the whingeing Brits, there are some who will be concerned about the weakening effect it will have on the rest of the union; some countries might be tempted to follow suit and quit. It is not inconceivable that the EU could collapse altogether, with profound effects not only for the UK and Europe itself but for the rest of the world. So please could the UK raise its game, look beyond its shores and start thinking about how its decision could affect other people.
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