Sunday, 3 November 2019

'What happens if we vote for Brexit?' From January 19, 2016 by the Constitution Unit

A reminder that Boris was talking before the referendum about a second referendum on whether to leave, after Leave won the first one. He predicted the EU would offer us concessions that might persuade us stay in the EU.

Dominic Cummings also suggested a second referendum, but a referendum to endorse the terms of Brexit as negotiated after Leave won the first referendum, without an option to remain. 

A second referendum with a choice between Boris's deal and leaving with no deal would have been a good idea and would have enabled Brexit Party voters to vote Tory.

''So if UK citizens vote to leave, it is unclear exactly what kind of future they are voting for. This raises the question of whether it might be more appropriate to hold a second referendum, following the negotiations, to see whether voters accept the deal. The Constitution Unit has long argued for a two-referendum approach to Scottish independence, and the same logic might be said to apply to EU membership as well. George Osborne recently reiterated the government’s position that there will be no second referendum. Nevertheless, Boris Johnson signalled interest in such a plan last summer, and the columnist Simon Jenkins has given it strong backing. The idea appears first to have attracted attention after it was suggested in a blog post by Dominic Cummings, leading light in the Vote Leave campaign.

'But what kind of referendum are these people proposing, and is it actually possible under Article 50? Some seem to suggest that the second referendum could be on improved terms of EU membership. The Sunday Times story that communicated the London mayor’s thoughts said, ‘Johnson has told friends that a “no” vote is desirable because it would prompt Brussels to offer a much better deal, which the public could then support in a second referendum.’ The idea seems to be that we could retain EU membership, but on much more radically changed terms than are currently on offer.

'But that is not possible. It would require a negotiation for revised membership terms, when what Article 50 provides for is a negotiation to cease membership. It might be suggested that it’s the politics that matter, not the rules – if EU leaders want to negotiate revised membership (and all do say they want the UK to stay in), they could do so. But the political reality in the UK after a vote to leave would require the Prime Minister to negotiate the terms of departure. He or she would have a mandate to do nothing else. As Steve Peers puts it, ‘those who claim to support invoking Article 50 to trigger renegotiation either have a hidden agenda or are quite naïve about what they are suggesting’.

'.....What both Cummings and Jenkins appear to have in mind is, rather, a referendum on whether to accept the terms of exit. As Cummings unabashedly admits, he proposes this prospect in order to persuade waverers to vote ‘leave’ at the first ballot, safe in the belief that they could always change their minds later. Matthew Parris has endorsed just that thought: ‘The terms on which we leave could affect us deeply. So I’ll stick my neck out. If Britain votes to leave, there will have to be a second referendum. And we will have to have the opportunity to relent of our first decision.’ Notwithstanding official denials, James Kirkup said a few months ago that this reflects what some senior people in government are thinking.

'In fact, the only second referendum whose effect would be clear is one where the options are to leave on the terms that have been negotiated or to reject those terms and hope we can get something better before being forced, under the terms of Article 50, to leave without having negotiated any terms at all. That might strengthen the UK’s negotiating hand – but it would also be fraught with risks. The Greek government tried something similar last summer but ended up effectively accepting the original deal anyway, having recognized that other Eurozone countries would budge no further. And everyone agrees that leaving without negotiated terms would be crazy: for example, leaving with no free trade agreement in place would, under World Trade Organization rules, require imposition of tariffs on some UK–EU trade. In any case, such a referendum would be nothing like the one Cummings and others have floated, offering no comfort to waverers at all.

Dr. Alan Renwick, political scientist and Dept Director of the Constitution Unit, University College London, 'What happens if we vote for Brexit?' - posted on January 19, 2016 on The Constitution Unit's blog.

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