As government self inflicted disasters go , calling, and losing, the referendum on getting out of the European Union is comparable to the worst of the last 70 years— the invasions of Iraq in 2003, and Suez in 1956.
First and foremost it’s a disaster for our democracy. We are a representative democracy in which ‘the Queen in Parliament’ — elected MP’s — have the final say. Historically referendums, have no place, they have been regarded — by Mrs Thatcher for example as ‘a device of dictators and demagogues’ , a political expedient. They are not allowed by the German constitution because they can be manipulated, as was amply demonstrated in this referendum by the blizzard of propaganda and disinformation dispensed by the popular press. Hitler came to power partly via a referendum.
People who voted to leave were told they were ‘taking back our independence’, and the ability to ‘make our own laws’, so as not to have to submit to an unelected Brussels bureaucracy. They were not told that EU laws are there to implement agreements and treaties we have negotiated — in this sense, they are ‘our’ laws, and ‘Brussels’ job is to implement the agreements we have made.
Countries which do have referendums, tend to have written constitutions which carefully prescribe how they operate, what majority is needed – often two thirds , and in which different regions of the country they must apply. Although many politicians have said ‘the nation has decided’ and ‘we are in a direct democracy now’, legally, this referendum is nothing more than advisory, and in this case the 52-48% vote has not ‘decided’ anything. The country is split down the middle.
Is there anything more irresponsible than a government carelessly calling a referendum implying that a single vote difference would mean the nation would have ‘decided’. Even a golf club requires a sizeable majority to change its rules.
To suggest that the nation has ‘decided’, amounts to an acceptance of a kind of coup d’etat against the UK’s famously ‘unwritten’ constitution . It amounts to a fundamental change to the way we are governed, to call a referendum, without having gone through any due process or serious consideration of when a referendum would be appropriate, how it should be conducted, what majority would be required, and whether it is binding on parliament or not.
As preparations for leaving get underway, a mountain of negative consequences will soon pile up. Thousands of pages of regulations and laws will have to be rewritten, treaties torn up and replaced. Whole new systems for funding agriculture, environment, trade, education and research, will have to be created. As investment dries up, UK economic growth will be lower, there may be a recession, jobs will be lost, with some firms moving to Europe. Public finances will worsen as tax income declines..All this, on top of the Herculean task of negotiating an exit agreement with Europe that preserves access to the single market. Public opinion may well change.
Even a recklessly anti-Europe government, might pause for thought — hopefully for a year, or even a decade. The government may be able to instigate withdrawal from the EU without reference to Parliament, by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, but MP’s need to be reminded that they are the guardians of Parliamentary sovereignty and should insist on a vote on whether or when to set the country on this disastrous path.