It really gives me no pleasure to say I called it right – but, looking back on the trio of EU referendum blogs, the basic premises were confirmed overnight on the 23rd/24th.
The referendum was an absurd exercise for answering questions about the UKs future relationship with the EU. Cameron is a fatally flawed individual and prime minister – putting ego and tactical Tory-UKIP party political considerations consistently before the country he purports to love. The UKs representative democracy is in terminal decline as an instrument for determining political, economic and social choices sensibly. The evil lies of political opportunists has a major (17m) constituency in the country – anchored by those disadvantaged and excluded, topped up with racists, bigots and supported by tax haven owners of the tabloids and an assortment of relatively nasty neoliberal oligarchs.
None of this, however, should be allowed a free run at imposing their version of hate, isolation and, indeed, poverty on those that want an outward looking, civilised Britain.
What the referendum actually showed was NOT a binary winner and a loser, but a deeply divided voting Britain, with an overwhelming majority for REMAIN.
17million voters choose BREXIT. This is 37% of eligible voters and 26% of the population. 16m voted REMAIN and 13m chose not to vote. Despite the highest profile campaign, and the lies and hate of Brexiters, ‘did not vote’ (DNV) were content enough to let the status quo ride. REMAIN and DNV represent 63% of eligible voters and 45% of the population.
The winning margin of the referendum was 1.3m. Yet over 2m EU adult residents were denied the right to vote – despite making major contributions to the UK economically and socially. 1.5m 16 and 17 year olds were denied the right to vote – despite a clear constitutional recognition (in the Scotland independence referendum) that they have a right to express their preferences in game changing, inter-generational decisions open to plesbicites. If these two cohorts had split in a similar way to 18-24 year olds (75/25), this amounts on a 70% turnout to an additional 1.8m Remain votes, together with 1m abstainers. Interestingly, despite record registration of 46.5m, there are actually 50.8m over 18s in the UK – so 4.3m unregistered adults. And there are 14m young people under-18.
Call me old fashioned, but it is a politicians job to use their judgement to take decisions in the interests of all residents, communities (and future generations). The referendum is not legally binding (although the legislation could have made it so) – so it is advisory. In coming to a judgement, politicians also need to consider the impact on the cohesion of the whole United Kingdom of the clear preferences for Remain in London, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
And they need to at least consider the conduct of the campaign. Voters were told repeated lies (e.g. the £350m, the influx of over 70m Turks), and incited to racial hatred and xenophobia repeatedly (e.g. the Farage nazi poster) – whipped up by the tax-haven owned tabloid press.
The decision on if, how, and when to trigger departure from the EU is a political decision. Politicians need to use their judgement to determine how much weight to give to the referendum in this regard. I would argue, this weight should be modest. It was a close result, based on clear misinformation (at best) and bitter (probably illegal) xenophobic frenzy, with many important pro-Remain constituencies excluded. Nevertheless, there is a clear majority for Remain and/or the status quo.
Yet our political leaders seem to have treated the result as decisive and binding. The consequence of Cameron and Corbyn (let alone the evil Brexit leadership) adopting this position should not go unchallenged.
When MPs reassemble, the honest narrative needs to be articulated. The referendum was fatally flawed and indecisive. In these circumstances Parliament should actually determine NOT to invoke Article 50 this side of a general election. If Labour, the nationalists, the LibDems can come together and persuade twenty or so Tories to support this narrative, I suspect they can command a majority in both Houses, and form a Government of National Unity (GNU) to manage the chaos caused by Cameron’s mistake. The GNU might include an agreement for a general election in a couple of years – when the divisive bitterness whipped up by the referendum has diminished.
I also would like the EU Leaders to consider this narrative themselves. They should acknowledge the Referendum result, but assert that, in their opinion, it was indecisive. They should express deep concern and regret that the UK Government is mistakenly treating it as binding. This is creating uncertainty and negative consequences across the continent.
They should then call on the UK Government and Parliament to concur with this interpretation, and pass the resolution mentioned above. However, they should also make it clear, that the uncertainties and negative consequences cannot be allowed to endure. If such a resolution is NOT passed within, say a fortnight, they should state that they will then consider that UK has served Article 50 (whether they have physically done so or not). This idea that the UK can choose to treat an advisory referendum as binding, but then also choose to implement that resolution whenever they fancy (i.e. after the Tories have sorted themselves out) is outrageous.
Such an approach from EU27 is perfectly reasonable, and will force the Government and MPs to deal decisively and rapidly with Cameron’s monstrous party political miscalculation.
Will any of this happen? What we have seen in this first 36 hours after the referendum declaration does not give me huge confidence. But someone should at least give it a go. If they do, they will quickly gather huge support from the majority of political leaders and citizens who want an outward-looking, positive Britain engaged at the heart of our continent, and in Europe’s relations to the world.
More likely, we shall get the Boris Trump fascist imposition of the 17m Brexiters votes (i.e. the 26%) on the rest of the country in a cobbled together post-Cameron Tory Government based on their 24% electorate ‘mandate’ from the 2015 general election.
Our MPs and political leaders, and the EU27, have a heavy responsibility when they regroup after the weekend. Some of them need to regroup across rather than within narrow party political lines. If they don’t we shall find that by the end of 2016 democracy will be in the terminal decline I wrote about earlier. And Europe may be in a disarray not seen in my lifetime.