What the hell DO we want?
51.9% (of those who voted) don’t want the status quo. That was meant to be the “EU membership” status quo, but has probably been taken to mean a more general status quo.
So apart from “something different” what do the Brexiteers / Leavers / Quitters want? Having achieved their victory the Leave campaign seems to have faded away. Their chief standard-bearer has looked at the possibilities of picking up the reins of the Tory Leadership and decided “no thanks”. Various previous spokesmen and women have, in disavowing various promises made during the campaign, made it obvious that there never was “one thing” that was on offer to the quitters – other than quitting the EU.
It is probably beyond dispute that this was a deliberate ploy by the master strategist (and now retiring prime minister) David Cameron to enable re-use of the “Project Uncertainty” strategy. This was after all used to (just) persuade the Scots to vote against independence. In the end it is his fault. But he is departing; like his fellow Bullingdon club alumnus, he has “trashed the restaurant” and rather than hanging around to clear up he is disappearing to a private watering hole.
The leave campaign support was drawn from a wide variety of areas including:
- Those intellectually opposed to transnational institutions
- Those who feel a visceral “Englishness” that they (justifiably) fear is threatened by the likes of the EU
- Economic Liberals who believe in Free Trade and see the EU as a regional cartel.
- Economists who believe they can assess our economic prospects and that they would be better outside the EU
- Those who felt that the EU needed a kicking to persuade it to reform
- Those who just wanted to give the system a kicking
- Rascists – closet or otherwise
- The misguided – who voted “out” for a variety of mistaken ideas from a desire to get out of Eurovision (and its Song Contest) to wanting to buy bent cucumbers.
- Fruitcakes – those who do not know why they voted
But there is no consensus (or majority) for what is wanted. We have had a result:
- 48.1% for the status quo
- 51.9% against the status quo and in favour of one of
- complete withdrawal and trading on WTO terms
- The “Canada” solution
- The “Norway” solution
- The “Switzerland” solution
- A hybrid of one of the above
- A fantasy of all the benefits of EU membership but none of the costs or obligations
- giving a good kicking to the EU so that it comes up with a better “reformed relationship” – sort of Cameron+
- giving a good kicking to the EU so that it comes up with an overall reform package, which puts the brakes permanently on further union, closes Strasbourg, cuts red tape, returns powers etc. etc.
Only one alternative to the status quo is possible, but we don’t know whether any would attract majority support – or (in some cases) would get the required acceptance of our negotiating partners in the EU of 27.
(Likewise it is quite possible that if a particular exit solution was on the table, some of those who voted to remain due to “uncertainty” would have voted to leave.)
We actually need a “New Zealand national flag” solution.
In New Zealand they were looking to possibly change their national flag. They held a competition to create a short-list of alternatives which were then put to a first referendum – as a sort of primary to decide which new design should challenge the status quo. The first referendum whittled down the short-list (by preferential voting) to one challenger. There was then a second referendum between the status quo and the challenger. In the second referendum the people of New Zealand, having looked at the options for change, and selected a challenger, decided (57%to 43%) they preferred the status quo.
In the UK we are in the ludicrous situation of deciding we want change but not knowing what we want!
Cameron’s referendum act and Article 50 of the Lisburn Treaty does not allow for a “New Zealand” process – except in one circumstance.
The referendum act says that the referendum is advisory. So it is open to the House of Commons to “defy” the result. I use the word “defy” deliberately because if they do so they have to be aware that that is how many will view it. A lot of people (on both sides of the argument) believe that the referendum is “democracy” and the result must therefore be binding. To “defy” the result may increase public disaffection with politics, but may also be the only way out of a messy situation and avoid a complete break leading to trade on WTO terms (which I suspect most people would unite against).
In addition, we may have burnt our bridges with the remaining members of the EU who are fed up with the uncertainty and beginning to look forward positively to an EU without “the English” constantly sniping. I think they see losing Farage as a definite benefit of Brexit.
It is therefore unlikely that the EU will allow us to “negotiate a preferred alternative” prior to triggering Article 50. Article 50 gets us “out” – then separate negotiations define a new relationship.
However, we might take this as a warning that, if there is a second Scottish Independence Referendum, it may be worth fully working up an “Independence Option” to stand against the status quo. “Project Uncertainty” may not work again and we do not want a solution where the Scots vote for independence but we then find that no one knows what that really means. It is far better for both sides to work to create two genuine and certain options to put before the people of Scotland.