One reason why I tend to avoid politics in blogging is that the information content tends to be low. Plenty of other people would say what I would say, and it all gets predictable. But for the record - yes, I think Britain should have stayed in the EU. I'm old enough to remember when Britain originally shied away from EEC membership, and then through the hard work of Ted Heath and others, was able to belatedly join, suffering some disadvantage from the delay. I was actually in Britain in June 1975 when the first ever national referendum was held, getting support for (by then negotiated) EEC membership by 66%.
I think Britain's sparing use of referenda is justified. In Australia we have them fairly frequently. There is provision for them in the constitution, which adds the requirement to succeed that have to get not only a majority of voters, but a majority of states (ie 4 out of 6). Consequently, it takes a substantial majority to succeed.
In this post I don't want to dwell on the rights and wrongs of the actual vote, but just to raise a question that puzzles me. Who will actually implement it? That issue seems to be a tangle built into adding referenda on to parliamentary government. It hasn't affected us much, because referenda only succeed with bipartisan parliamentary support, with the extra burden of 4 states approving. And they tend to be issues which would not anyway affect the fate of governments. We have one coming up on gay marriage. Probably the most noted in recent times was the referendum on becoming a republic. But even if that had passed, it's unlikely that PM Howard, who opposed it, would have felt required to resign.
Anyway, what I'm writing about here is the mechanics. Exiting the EU in a reasonable way will be a very hard task. It will require acts of parliament, some of which may be unpopular. How will it be done?
The customary saying is that the people have spoken, and that is binding. But binding on who, exactly? And are they empowered to make it happen. I'll review the main players involved.
The electorateNo-one even knows hwo voted for it. The electorate cannot be held responsible for its decision. People can and probably will change their minds. As has been said, a large part of the reason that Brexit passed was that people under 25, who opposed it, tended not to vote on June 24. But they are part of the electorate. They may well vote in judgment of the politicians charged to implement it. The electorate is not bound. It's hard to have another referendum to test, but politicians will be acutely conscious of shifts in opinion.
The ParliamentMost of the current parliament opposed Brexit. All parties there except the Tories were Remainders. The Tories were officially neutral, but their leaders were mostly against, notably the PM, Cameron. He announced his intention to resign. Honorable and principled, but also pragmatic. Trying to push through laws that you think will have bad consequences is not a good career move. If by chance the outcome isn't bad, your opponents will get the credit anyway.
So, Cameron says, let someone who thinks this is a good idea take over leadership. Maybe Boris Johnson. But he would be leading just a Tory faction in a hostile House, trying to get controversial laws passed that they oppose. How could he retain the confidence of the House?
The classic remedy for this is an election. Let the people enforce their will by electing a Parliament that will implement it. But will they? Even if they haven't changed their mind (or composition/voters), it has been the case for many years that something like a majority of people are sceptical of the EU, yet for whatever reason, they tend to elect pro-EU parliaments. Why should this change?
And that assumes, again, that the voters haven't changed their mind since June 24. What if they have? There is a referendum decision for which no practical implementation can be made. Not only need the pro-EU pols follow their beliefs - they could also improve their vote.
EuropeSo what do the European partners do? For now, Britain is a member in good standing. It requires, I gather, an invocation of Article 50 by the British government to start anything. But who will do that? It seems to me irresponsible for Cameron to do so, when he clearly isn't going to follow it up. Nor should his successor, say Boris Johnson, do so without the confidence of the House, and presumably with an affirmative vote from it. It seems to me that that would have to await an election, which might still not return a favorable parliament.
Of course, it is possible that frictions in this limbo period would increase, which would lead to Britain being pushed out. Or the discomfort swaying British voters more in favor of exit. But Angela Merkel seems to think that shouldn't happen, and that may prevail.
So, well, we'll find out. Interesting times.
Incidentally, I see various attempts in some to find a climate politics angle in Brexit. I'm not doing that here, because I don't think there is one.
Update Interesting comment from Lord Heseltine:
Lord Heseltine has pointed to the practicalities of an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons against leaving the EU. “There is a majority of something like 350 in the House of Commons broadly in favour of the European relationship,” he said.
“There is no way you are going to get those people to say black is white and change their minds unless a) they know what the deal is and b) it has been supported either by an election or by another referendum,” Heseltine told Sky News. “So there’s a dramatic urgency to get on with the negotiations.”
He called for a cross-party group of MPs to look at the options and “articulate the case for Britain rethinking the result of the referendum”.