The Brexit Referendum seems to have gone horribly wrong and now seriously challenges ‘the order of things’ in the UK, our futures and our very existence as a country.
The Referendum, badly designed and fought, has destroyed David Camerons’ reputation as PM and, with this, his project in social conservatism. He was trying to ensure that the Tories were no longer seen as ‘the nasty party’.
It is also destroying Jeremy Corbyn who could have swung the Labour vote to Remain but who, for whatever reason, choose to undermine that cause. Now having lost the support of the elected Labour MPs, he refuses to go quietly into the night. He clings on for now, sadly, a figure of ridicule risking destroying his own party.
Nigel Farage and Michael Gove have gone as well; neither will be sorely missed and both must share responsibility for the UK’s challenging future – if not the blame.
Boris Johnson is a survivor who went but bounced back. I always found it amusing that ‘the Toff of all Toffs’ and former Mayor of London was believed by the masses when he argued that they should not believe the Toffs in London and all their lies! En route, he managed to insult most of our friends and allies. He has just been appointed Foreign Secretary! Theresa May is either very asute or has agood sense of humour.
The Referendum has destroyed the UK’s economic future at least in the medium term and with this the hopes and aspirations of the next two or three generations. Many old voters claimed they were safe guarding their children’s’ and grandchildrens’ futures in voting Leave. Those future generations could have been included in the vote from 16 years old and above as in the Scottish Referendum: they were not. 75% those of voting age went with Remain. Furthermore, the areas that voted most strongly for Leave were, paradoxically, among the areas receiving most EU monies with industries selling into the EU. What future have they now? Many have commented ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’.
The Referendum may yet destroy the UK. The SNP may hold a second independence vote and win it. At the same time, a united Ireland now seems possible with Norther Ireland having the same devolved status in the new Ireland (and in the EU) as it has in the UK. The evidence is that Wales now regrets voting for Leave and, who knows, one day we might see the UK split in two: little England and a Union of Celtic Nations (UCN). Could such a union, UCN, be a member of the EU pigging backing that of the Irish Republic? Whither then Cornwall? Of course, the current Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, wants greater devolved powers for his city. Could London become a Free City and rejoin the EU? Such moves would leave a very little England struggling not to be an economic basket case.
Such scenarios were, up to this month, unlikely to the point of being fantastical or even farcical. They have all now be mentionned and some are ‘on the table’.
Theresa May is our new PM and intends to govern to the end of the current term making negotiating the Brexit her main priority. Tim Farron and the Lib Dems have called for a General Election to establish her mandate for the Brexit. There are, at least, three different grounds for rethinking the Referendum and how we proceed. I have dealt with them in this Blog.
First, the Referendum question asked whether ‘the UK would be better off in the EU or leaving it’. It did not ask ‘should we remain or should we leave now’. Furthermore, Referendum was not legally binding and appears now to sit outside our representative Parliamentary democracy. There may yet be legal challenges to triggering Article 50 without a vote in Parliament.
Second, any Referendum on major constitutional change should have a built in threshold for that change. The Referendum did not and with a relatively slim majority this has become a major problem. Only 37.5% of the total electorate voted for a Brexit. The evidence now shows that a significant proportion of the Leave vote was a protest against austerity and against a perceived lack of interest on the part of government in the less well off and more remote areas. It is fair to say that few thought that Leave would win. Nigel Farage even conceded as the counting began but then obviously retracted that concession.
Third, given where we are, the logical way forward for any government would be negotiate the terms and conditions of leaving and possible reforms if we did not, then hold a Second Referendum or General Election, then vote in Parliament and act appropriately. We cannot conveniently ignore the Petition for a Second Referendum that attracted over 4.2 million signatures. This strategy could ensure the best deal for the UK going forward and help heal the divisions in our society that now exist.
So we now have a new PM appointing a new government: out with the old and in with the new. The problem is that she and her new government do not have a mandate: we did not vote for her and this government or its agenda. She apparently supported the Remain cause but obviously weakly as she is now appointing right wing Brexiters to key positions. One can only hope that she has a plan and it works. The Labour Party is at war with itself and the outcome is uncertain. It could be a victory for left wing populatism over Parliamentary democracy: party before country. UKIP is leaderless and possibly a spent force unless it becomes even more right wing. What of Tim Farron and the Liberal Democrats? What indeed. This could be their time but all remains very quiet and there is literally no Liberal Democrat impact on events. Sad. This party needs to awake up and smell the coffe. Perhaps only the SNP offers a stable party and government and solid and clear leadership. Not sad.
This is the political backdrop to the most momentous constitutional challenge that we have faced for generations. Am I silly to be concerned?
The economic outlook is poor, we have no real negotiating team or plan for Brexit, everything will take too long for our immediate recovery and, as a country, we do not have many (or any friends). Life is going to be tough.
Theresa May has a great burden on her shoulders now: can she save the country from itself and heal it as she does? Our other party leaders and MPs also share that burden and will be so judged. Remember that, over the centuries, people in Britain and in Ireland have rarely forgiven and forgotten. Those that, for whatever reason selfish or deluded, blindly pursue the current unrepresentative popularist agenda will undoubtedly live to regret it. A more measured, responsible and informed approach is now required.
Some MPs were clear in their Referendum preference: Leave or Stay. Some feigned one option but quietly favoured the other. Some kept their heads down and their powder dry waiting to see which way the wind eventually blew. This could be a quiz but it is not. If it were, some of answers would be very obvious to the discredit of certain MPs. It may be worth remembering which group your MP belonged to; just in case there is a General Election any time soon. It might just help you choose who to vote for.
The real issues are those of motivation and trust. What motivated your MP’s behaviour: national interest (Leave or Remain) or self interest (career)? Given their behaviour in relation to such an important constitutional issue, can you still trust them enough to vote for them again?
One interesting thing is that, if this penny drops, MPs might behave differently in future and they might even step up to the plate now and try to ensure that our country makes the best of a bad situation. Let us be honest, however you look at it we are now in for a difficult and turbulent time. Few will get through it unscathed. We need our elected representatives to come together, think honestly and work together to salvage something from the current mess. Especially as it is largely, if not entirely, of their own making.
Nigel Farage has quit as leader of UKIP saying that he has achieved his political ambition; the UK voting to leave the EU. He (and his legacy) will be judged by the experiences of generations to come: hero to some and less than zero to others.
Nigel Farage says he will not resign from the European Parliament despite his extreme criticism of it and of its value. He apparently sees no reason to give up his salary and expenses until Brexit actually happens. He and his colleagues will see out their terms in office.
He also says that the UKIP mission was akin to that of the turkeys that voted for Christmas. They disappear fatally with the success of that mission. Many think that it is a terrible shame that, with others, he pursuaded voters in S Wales and NE England, massive recipients of EU regional funding and job creation investment, to do the same.
He has also said that UKIP’s greatest potential for continued growth is among disillusioned Labour voters. Here we are witnessing a politically and disturbing swing from the traditional left to the extreme right on many issues. To this constituency, UKIP have added older right-leaning voters especially those who are somewhat less educated.
The challenge to the Labour Party frames the current struggle between its popularist and non parliamentary left led by Jeremy Corbyn and its more centrist and representative Parliamentary Party. The evidence is that the latter has greater appeal to the Labour sensitive general electorate.
Moving on, it is interesting that virtually all the Brexit campaign generals have now stepped down or back from the post-Brexit challenge or look otherwise doomed. I suspect none ever expected to win and now realise the enormity of the challenge that the UK faces to survive let alone prosper. This is not encouraging and points up the dubious nature of their assertions about the promised land that would appear on the Brexit. Some call these assertions “lies” and some now realise the meaning of “be careful for what you wish for …. “.
Despite fraudulent signatures being removed, as is excellent practice, the Petition for a Second Referendum is still growing. It now stands just below 4 million: 3,948,866 signatures.
The Petition is sensibly focused on the threshold required for a secure recommendation in either direction: 60% of a 75% turnout. This is the level that should have been set and is appropriate for securing major constitutional change in a stable democracy: ours. The first referendum did not cross this threshold and the Leave vote, winning by just 2.5% of the votes cast, represents just 37.5% of the total electorate.
Parliament is the proper place in our representative democracy to decide on changing our relationship with the EU albeit advised but not bullied by the Leave vote: 37.5% of the total electorate.
Hopefully, the Petition will give Parliament “balls enough” to rethink and hopefully rerun the referendum.This is especially important now that the real ecomonic impact of a possible Brexit is being made clear and the promises of the Leave campaign on immigration are being laid bare as misleading or even lies! Even Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage are rowing back. It is so sadly clear now that many in South Wales, NE and SW England were cruelly used in the referendum to serve the political ambitions of the leading Exiteers.
Pressurise your MP, sign and encourage orhers to sign the Petition. We must do the brave and patriotic thing and now save our UK.
The Petition has been investigated by the Commons Petition Committee. This is good news for two reasons.
First, the investigation points up the fact that the petition is sensible and about correcting the weak threshold set for the Referendum. Furthermore, it makes clear that it was set up before the Referendum by a Brexit supporter.
The petition’s website states it was set up by an individual called William Oliver Healey, a self declared Brexit supporter, and says: “We the undersigned call upon HM Government to implement a rule that if the Remain or Leave vote is less than 60%, based [on] a turnout less than 75%, there should be another referendum.”
The turnout was actually 72.5% and the majority vote was Leave at 52%.
Second, now it has been properly investigated and scrutinised and only 77,000 votes have been removed from the 3.1 million cast. This sounds a lot but is only 2.5% and a relatively small percentage for such petitions.
In our representative democracy, Parliament should assert its proper authority, in the light of the vote to Leave representing only 37.5% of the electorate and the subsequent Petition over 3.1 million, and not now formally withdraw from the EU.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has told the BBC that Holyrood could try to block the UK’s exit from the EU. This should be welcomed as it would give Parliament the necessary opportunity to assert its authority in a free vote to postpone withdrawal pending further discussions with the EU and a second Referendum.
A major constitutional change should require the support of the majority of the electorate and of both Houses of Parliament. This is the triple lock that should naturally be applied. It is designed to prevent the subversion of our democracy by fickle populist movements.
This has not happened here in the UK over changing our relationship with the EU. However, it remains within the power of our properly elected Parliament to reassert its authority and defend our democracy.
Only 72.2% of the electorate voted and 52% voted to leave the EU. This adds up to just 37.5% of the electorate. No proper democracy would let such a vote over ride its Parliament and drive one of the most significant constitutional changes it could ever make.
Furthermore, in a vote for the future of our country and that of our children and grandchildren, the young were not able to vote. Worse still, the data clearly show that the older and old voters suported leaving the EU. The younger voters did not. The Wrinklies stole the future of young people.
There are several ways forward to rescue this situation; all depend on Parliament finding the strength to ressert its lawful authority. It could respect the magnitude of the Petition for a Second Referendum and, after discussions with the EU, go back to the electorate with a new deal and with a responsible threshold for change; one based on the whole electorate. If the vote is then to leave, at least, we would gave engaged in a proper democratic process.
As in the Scottish Referendum, 16 to 18 year olds should be allowed to vote on their own futures. The precedent exists without subsequent calamity. This is a key issue.
Do two things now: pressurise your elected MP to force the Commons to hold a free vote on the EU and, while doing so, sign up to the Petition.
This is a chance for young people to take their futures back from the Wrinklies.
In my mind, a Referendum that is said to be binding on a single winning vote irrespective of turn out cannot be judged to be reasonable constitutionally and can could be an infringement of peoples’ human rights.
With the turnout of Thursday’s Referendum at 72.2% of the electorate and a winning vote of 52%, the historic constitutional change that we face has been driven by just 37.5% of the electorate. That is clearly madness and may be constitutionally unsound if not illegal.
We can hope for a serious challenge in the Courts by fair minded people.
Please sign the Petition for a Second Referendum if you wish to save out great country which is now teetering on the very edge of disaster. It is probably our very last chance.
The tragic and appalling murder of Labour MP Jo Cox has shocked the UK. She was shot, stabbed and kicked as she lay dying by a man who is said to have shouted “put Britain first”. Only a person driven by hate could have been so brutal and uncaring. Jo Cox had commited her life to working with the Labour Party, charities and the UK Parliament to secure a better world for all.
I cannot help but worry that the Referendum campaign has fired up not only fear but also has fed and, for some, justified hate. We have been told that immigration will destroy the UK, that the EU is holding us back if not enslaving us and that toffs and experts are lying to us because they are being somehow paid by the EU. We are told to distrust and reject; a small step away from dislike and then hate.
This is so sad for all of us and for our UK. Sadly, most of those who buy into the distrust and reject mantra are the most like to be hurt badly by walking away from Europe. Many are also life long supporters of the Labour Party, a party pledged to a better world: fair and just, tolerant and caring. For me this does not stack up.
Hate is, as Jo Cox’s husband has said, is a poison. Her death has changed the Referendum vote. It is now a chance to expunge that poison. It is about the sort of society that we want as much as about Europe; perhaps even more. The vote is now about wanting a fair and just, tolerant and caring UK or the opposite; Remain in Europe or Leave.
I delivered this eulogy to my friend and colleague Seb ~ Dr Eusebio Rial-Gonzalez ~ at the Healthy Workplace Summit 2015 in Bilbao in November.