Having slept on things I now have a better sense of where Britain is after the most monumental 24 hours in political history for an awful long time and I have to say it is clear that no one really knows what the hell is happening or going to happen. As a sort of attempt to clarify things for myself I am going to present some thoughts on where we are but the way things are moving they may well be out of date by the time anyone should read them. Here goes:
I voted to remain. I got it wrong.
I voted for remain because I thought that the best long term interests of Britain were served by being able to influence the European decision making rather than just having to accept what Europe presented to us as the latest diktat of the conditions of trade. These meant give and take on both side but I felt that we won more than we lost. That view didn’t prevail so I have to shrug my shoulders and get on with life as it is now. One of the most comical things over the last few days is reading an awful lot of commentators who seem incapable of doing this. They seem somehow to blame this whole thing on the poor who didn’t understand things or were deceived by the Leave side. Well I live in an area that isn’t poor and yet the vote was 60/40 in favour of Leave so I think that the ‘core’ poor voted against its own interest is just wrong. Whether we like it or not the English and Welsh didn’t want to be part of the European Union and I guess the biggest thing that the English and Welsh didn’t like was the level of immigration. As to why that might be I will leave others to suggest. We have voted to leave, get over it and accept the will of the people.
The next General Election.
I have just watched a presenter on the BBC news channel almost take as read that there has to be a general election in the autumn. I am not constitutional expert but I cannot see why there there needs to one. The first argument is that the new leader won’t have a mandate to lead. This totally misunderstands how a Prime Minister is selected. She or he is appointed by the monarch because they can command a majority in the House of Commons to enable them to pass legislation. Nothing I have seen since Friday would suggest to me that whomever is the new Conservative party leader won’t be able to do this. In fact she or he will probably be more secure in their position than David Cameron was even after winning the last election.
As for the mandate question what has changed from Wednesday? The Conservative party had a manifesto commitment to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership. They have just discharged that and so they now have to deal with the consequences of that vote. There was no commitment to consult further the British people further on the matter outside of a General Election. The Conservatives still have the right to continue to form the Government until 2020 whether or not they have changed their leader.
To get an early General Election 70% of MPs have to vote for it and this is highly unlikely to happen. First the Unionist MPs from Ulster are likely to support the Conservatives for their own political reasons. Secondly, whomever the new Prime Minister is is unlikely to want to cause even more uncertainty whilst she or he has to start the process of leaving the EU so they aren’t going to want to call an election, even if they thought they could get 70% of MPs to support them – which they wouldn’t. Thirdly, the Labour party won’t want to face their voters anytime soon as many of the MPs had clearly wanted to stay in the EU when their voters wanted out. If they did there is a real chance that a significant number of UKIP MPs could replace them and this would completely destroy Labour’s chances. Ironically the only party that would want a vote in the autumn would be UKIP but that isn’t likely to include their one and only MP. In short whilst there is a lot of heat and froth about this subject it really isn’t on the table at the moment, much as the BBC might want it – I suspect that the presenter may have just got a little carried away.
The European Union.
Now that Britain has voted to leave the European Union there seems to be an assumption on the part of the European Union that they can dictate the way things are going to unfold. As I understand it they can’t as it is up to the member state to start the process by using the procedures outline in article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The EU can fume and make silly noises but there is nothing that they can do about things. Of course there will be hard bargaining to be worked out during the 2 year period so it is Britain’s best interest to work out a clear position on these before things start because we all have to live with the consequences. I am not sure exactly how strong the EU hand is as no one has ever gone through this process and I think the EU aren’t either. Some members may want to ‘punish’ Britain, probably lead by France, but they have Presidential elections next year so are in no real position to say what they think until that hurdle has been cleared. Equally, the Germans are being far more conciliatory as they try and find a pragmatic way out of this mess. Also they face elections in the near future which will also mean that their position may well change over time. In short nobody really knows what the EU position will really be and that should the European Commission try to be too highhanded they might just bring the whole house crashing down around their heads. Of course this assumes that there isn’t a Euro crises which is far from certain and if this happens then we really are in uncharted territories.
I really do have a lot of sympathy with Nicola Sturgeon. In her heart she want to run an fully independent country free from the UK but her head tells her that this is becoming less and less likely. So she has to tread very cautiously because she knows that the numbers for an independent Scotland just don’t add up. They didn’t back in 2014 and things are far worse now. Of course Scotland voted by a 60/40 split to Remain but that doesn’t translate into 60/40 vote to leave the financial support of England. As I wrote at the time of the Scottish Referendum money isn’t everything and if the country wants to leave the UK then they should do and Nicola Sturgeon would be so happy to do that. However, she also has a duty to point certain painful facts out to the Scottish electorate that leaving also contains significant risks for their health and well being. It may be seen that the EU is were Scotland wants to be but it is far from certain the EU will want them and if they do they will impose the kind of austerity on them that will make George Osbourne look like santa – just ask Greece. This is even before trying to work out the relationship with England who will no longer be part of the EU – the most tangible feature of this relationship will be a hard border across the Cheviot hills – perhaps we could employ Mr Trump to build it as he may have a bit of experience by then.
No one has the first clue what is going to happen or how the process of disentangling the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union – No One will be completed. There are a lot of people saying a lot of things, I guess that includes me, but no one knows. This whole thing needs to have cool heads and a spirit of constructive engagement to work probably. Whether that is how things will work is anyone’s guess but there will be Unknown Unknowns along the way that will try and test everyone’s nerve. I’ll give you just one example – 12 months ago the thought of Donald Trump being this close to the Presidency of the United Sates of America would have been considered a joke – who’s laughing now?
We really are through the looking glass now Alice we really, really are.