Muddling through Brexit – still no one knows what will happen

What happened?

10 days on it is still hard to make sense of what has happened. It is clear that those who voted for Brexit wanted to send a message to the Westminster and Whitehall establishment, to some extent the Brexit vote had some of the characteristics of a by-election rebellion. At least some of those who voted for Brexit were just wanting to protest and they did not expect or want to win – and they are saying so to camera.

Ipsos Mori interviewed 1,077 people poll for BBC Newsnight on 29th and 30th June.

  • 5% of Leave voters would now reverse their vote
  • 2% of Remain voters would change their vote.
  • More than a third of people believe Britain may end up remaining in the European Union even after the vote for Brexit. 22% said they did not know if the UK would follow through with its Brexit vote, while 16% are convinced the country will defy the result.
  • 48% want a general election before negotiations begin, so voters can give their verdict on each party’s plans for life.
  • 59% of respondents were not confident the Government will get the best deal for Britain – rising to 76% of Remain voters.
  • 38% said that losing access to the single market would be a price worth paying for new curbs on immigration
  • 42% including 18% of Leave voters, said Britain should continue to allow EU citizens to live and work in Britain in return for access to the single market.

As Brenda O’Neill has pointed out in The Spectator “Brexit voters are not thick, not racist: just poor. By forcing Britain to quit the EU they have given a bloody nose to an elite that views them with contempt”

Where are we now?

The Brexit side made a great many promises some of which have already been denied by Brexit leaders.

As the Labour Party goes through it paroxysm over the its leadership and purpose it is not unreasonable to ask whether the referendum was really about the leadership of the Conservative Party. If it was then there has been a great deal of collateral damage.

Two of the leading Brexit campaigners are going to be there on the side lines demanding more, much more – exercising power but without responsibility.  It is not clear that Farage, Johnson or Gove expected to win – they certainly had no plan for what to do when they did win. |It is not even clear that they expected to wine

As Fathom Consulting pointed out on 24th June the UK electorate has bought “a pig in a poke”

Boris Johnson has written in the Telegraph today about the “hysteria, a contagious mourning of the kind that I remember in 1997 after the death of the Princess of Wales” amongst part of the public. Johnson is right tThe tear widens as David Cameron resigns.

Boris Johnson was at home with a small team, watching the prime minister resign live on TV.

Victory, one insider said, was the moment it all went wrong.

Another told me Boris felt he was staring down both barrels of a gun. He had rather a nice life – did he really want to be PM?hat there is lack of clarity about what happens next, and that fuels fear. He has quit the field, withdrawn to criticise from the side-lines, abrogated responsibility. The Brexit campaign was fought by divergent groups who could agree only that they wanted to leave the EU and get their country back. They could not agree on a programme for action after the vote.

It is not clear that either Johnson or Gove expected to win – they were silenced for a few hours by the unexpected victory.. BBC Journalist Mark Mardell gives an insider’s account of what happened

04:45 BST

A mobile phone rings in the Gove household.

His wife, Sarah Vine – as she explained in her Daily Mail column – hears her husband’s phone go off.

Then this exchange.

“Michael, guess what? We’ve won!”


She wrote in her column: “Given Michael’s high-profile role in the Leave campaign, that means he – we – are now charged with implementing the instructions of 17 million people.

“And that is an awesome responsibility.”

As the mobile phones go mad: “‘You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off,’ I said, in my best (ie not very good) Michael Caine Italian Job accent.

“In other words, you’ve really torn it now.”

The tear widens as David Cameron resigns.

Boris Johnson was at home with a small team, watching the prime minister resign live on TV.

Victory, one insider said, was the moment it all went wrong.

Another told me Boris felt he was staring down both barrels of a gun. He had rather a nice life – did he really want to be PM?


On 26 June Johnson wrote in The Telegraph

“I cannot stress too much that Britain is part of Europe – and always will be” and

“It is said that those who voted Leave were mainly driven by anxieties about immigration. I do not believe that is so. After meeting thousands of people in the course of the campaign, I can tell you that the number one issue was control – a sense that British democracy was being undermined by the EU system, and that we should restore to the people that vital power: to kick out their rulers at elections, and to choose new ones.”

This is certainly not what many of those who led the Brexit campaign, and who voted for it, thought was the Brexit. objective.

On 4 July Johnson opines that

“It was wrong of the Government to offer the public a binary choice on the EU without being willing – in the event that people voted Leave – to explain how this can be made to work in the interests of the UK and Europe.”

It was surely the responsibility of those wanting a Brexit to make clear what they thought the alternative to Remain was – they failed to achieve that.

Johnson has made clear his aspiration:

  1. There is no risk whatever to the status of the EU nationals now resident and welcome in the UK, and indeed immigration will continue – but in a way that is controlled, thereby neutralising the extremists.
  2. It is overwhelmingly in the economic interests of the other EU countries to do a free-trade deal, with zero tariffs and quotas, while we extricate ourselves from the EU law-making system.
  3. We can do free-trade deals with economies round the world, many of which are already applying.
  4. We can supply leadership in Europe on security and other matters, but at an intergovernmental level.
  5. The future is very bright indeed. That’s what Geldof should be chanting.

But it is still very vague – no commitment on immigration numbers, nor agricultural support, nor the NHS …….

So what next?

Harold Macmillan when asked what a prime minister most feared responded: ‘Events, dear boy, events’. Now that the campaign is over events will unfold, in the real world of negotiating with 27 countries – each of which has a sovereign mandate over the terms of our disengagement – the idea that we might get full access to the single market without paying into the EU budget and accepting free movement of labour seems highly unlikely. Economic and political realities will crowd in.

So where does that leave us.

With Theresa May as the likely next leader of the Conservative Party, triggering Article 50 and beginning to negotiate terms – no manifesto – the Leavers are divided about what Britain voted for beyond the simple idea of Brexit.

The Labour Party is distracted in an existential crisis.

Tim Farron the Liberal Democrat leader argues that there needs to be a democratic  mandate for the form of Brexit which is negotiated, whether a referendum or a general election..  The Liberal Democrats argue that one person a minute’ joining Liberal Democrats to fight Brexit .

The legalities …. 

Professor Dougan explains to the  that all markets have regulations which are enforced by judicial systems – if you want to trade in a market you have to accept the rules. Treasury Committee

Professor Michael Dougan, of Liverpool University, assesses UK’s position following vote to leave the EU and concludes that a democratic mandate is required to implement the results, Parliament will need to pass a great deal of legislation.

However, once Article 50 is activated the “UK is cut out of EU decision-making at the highest level and there will be no way back unless by unanimous consent from all other member states.”

“Once the UK tells the EU that it is withdrawing under Article 50, “the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it,” the rule says.

However, the UK will carry on taking part in other EU business as normal, but it won’t participate in internal EU discussions or decisions about its own withdrawal.”  BBC

Mishcon de Reya, lawyers acting for a group of business people and academics, argue that it would be unlawful for a prime minister to trigger Article 50 without a full debate and vote in Parliament.

“Kasra Nouroozi, a Mishcon de Reya partner, said: “We must ensure that the government follows the correct process to have legal certainty and protect the UK Constitution and the sovereignty of Parliament in these unprecedented circumstances.

“The result of the referendum is not in doubt, but we need a process that follows UK law to enact it.

“The outcome of the referendum itself is not legally binding and for the current or future prime minister to invoke Article 50 without the approval of Parliament is unlawful.

“We must make sure this is done properly for the benefit of all UK citizens. Article 50 simply cannot be invoked without a full debate and vote in Parliament.”

“UK: lost, divided and alone: The Brexit vote was a insurrectionary protest against neoliberalism, globalism and cultural contempt. It will break up the UK, and split England forever”???
Read Paul Mason in Le Monde

Whilst it seems very unlikely that MPs would deny the will of the people expressed in the referendum they might attach a process requiring that the “deal” be put to the people before being implemented.

The future is unclear – but at some point there will likely be a democratic mandate by referendum or general election. We could be in for a long period of uncertainty.

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