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Sunday, 17 July 2016

The aftermath of the UK’s EU Referendum: exploring social media’s imaginary realities #2

And it came to pass that there was no second referendum!

There never was going to be one, yet this did not stop people believing that this was a possibility. The idea was peddled in the media and through social networks. Even supposedly educated people, those who go around calling themselves scientists for example, were prepared to talk about a second referendum as though it were a real possibility. They were too busy thinking fast – those who thought slowly would have seen that a second referendum was just nonsense and here is why:

There is no legal basis for a second referendum. The terms and conditions of the EU referendum are laid down in an Act of Parliament. So the specification that the ‘first to pass 50% would win’ is defined by law. The Bill was also passed overwhelmingly and the outcome has not been challenged in the courts. The petition seeking to have the terms of the Act changed, so that a second referendum would be triggered if the vote is less than 60% based a turnout less than 75% cannot be implemented without introducing retrospective legislation. The UK Parliament does not in general implement retrospective legislation. Only in very special circumstances does it do so: information about when it does this is available in the public domain so anyone who was talking about the idea of a second referendum could have consulted this information and seen just how unlikely a piece of retrospective legislation was. Did they consult this information? So you think we live in an information society do you?

What then about a new Act of Parliament, enabling a fresh referendum in the year … It would not be in 2016 that is for sure. It takes time to debate a Bill, and to pass it into law. Windows of opportunity are also limited. Voting in the UK by tradition takes place in May/June, more rarely October, but this month clashes with the Party conference season. Most likely then would be June 2018.

‘Subjective’ common sense would also tell anyone who cared to think about the matter slowly that there was never going to be a second referendum. On the Monday morning after the referendum, the Cabinet met and accepted the result of the referendum, and leaving the EU then became government policy. MPs in the House of Commons demonstrated on the Monday afternoon that the result is accepted by the vast majority of MPs as well, even by those who do not agree with the outcome of the referendum. The British population is also suffering from referendum exhaustion. A second one is unlikely be welcomed and probably would not be engaged with to the extent that was seen in the June 2016 referendum, and a reduced participation would undermine the credibility of a second referendum.

The idea of having a second referendum also undermines the credibility of democracy – the UK’s democracy, which stands in sharp contrast to the frame of mind seen in some continental European countries where undermining democracy, it seems, is not seen as a problem. Perhaps this is why there have been so many problems in continental Europe, and why the continentals are heading into more problems and why, in the future, British people will look back and be glad that we were able to get out before those problems manifested themselves (the contempt for a ‘democracy of ordinary people’ that can be seen now in Brussels and continental Europe is alarming, but very Ancient Greek!).

Anyone who cares to look in the real world will see that the result of the referendum has been accepted by Government and Parliament and that the process of leaving is already underway. This has been the case since Monday June 27. It seems to have taken several weeks for this to become apparent to many people. Some people still cannot see this.

Meanwhile the doomsayers will continue with their “woe is us”, disregarding the fact that life is what you make it, and the British people will make a new future outside the EU, for as David Cameron admitted during the referendum campaign, “Britain can survive outside the EU.” It can prosper too by developing the policies that are aligned with this new reality. This too is already happening. All those people on the continent, and some at home too, who are looking forward to the UK’s demise will be disappointed, for they truly do not understand what it is to be British. Just look at our history and you will begin to understand what I mean. And I am the most un-nationalistic of people. Yet there comes a moment when it is appropriate to unite and to act in the country’s interest. National crises that affect everyone tend to unite people, regardless of whether they see themselves as English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish. It seems now that we have a Prime Minister that knows this!

So what is going to happen? The question is hard to answer given the complexities! Legally we are still in the EU, but for practical purposes we are already out. Most likely we will be formally out by the end of 2018, because Article 50 is likely to be invoked before the end of 2016, sometime between the time when Parliament returns from its summer recess, and the start of the Christmas recess. But this does not mean we will be leaving at the end of 2018!

The UK government is very likely now to put in place very quickly, economic stimulus measures to counter the negative effects of the withdrawal decision. The engineering, energy and construction sectors are likely to experience a boom as planned capital (infrastructure) investments are brought forward. An opportunity to announce such measures comes in the autumn with the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Autumn Financial Statement to the House of Commons.

At this moment in time, the civil service is most likely busy creating and analysing several exit scenarios. One of these must surely be rapid exit sometime in 2017. Many people have come to assume that it will take two years to leave. The reason for this is that Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon allows 2 years for negotiations. It does not however specify that the negotiations have to take 2 years. Both sides may have an interest in bringing the matter to a speedy conclusion. And one way of doing that is to conclude a transition agreement that allows final agreements to be moved into the future and spread out over many years and thus moved out of the public gaze, thus giving both sides the opportunity to claim that they got exactly what they wanted and that no principles have been compromised. Who knows? I am of course speculating, which is exactly what everyone did during the referendum, for it was not possible to predict, offer exit plans, or even remain plans, for all is outside our control, and in the hands of our Government, who will have to deal with a European Commission and 27 Member States that are unlikely to be able to agree among themselves, and will want different and incompatible things, regardless of all the posturing that is now taking place for public benefit.

And for the second time, the disembodied voice asked: “What are you doing Paul?”

To be continued …

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