Politics & Policy

Brexit, 2015 Referendum: Pick One

Predicting the result of the upcoming (May) British election is, I was repeatedly told during a visit to the UK last week, a mug’s game. With UKIP and the Greens likely to score well in England (although the number of seats they will win will fall, very, very far short of their percentage of the vote) compared with their performance in the last general election, and the Scottish Nationalists likely to triumph in Labour’s old Scottish heartland, the country is almost certainly looking at a minority government. I will stick with my prediction that it will turn out to be a minority Labour government supported by the (even further to the left) Scots Nats, a combination that will not only be bad for Britain in the way that leftist governments always are, but will also likely bring the dissolution of the UK even closer than it probably already is (a decade or so).

That hasn’t stopped UKIP’s Nigel Farage from setting out the price he would charge for UKIP support for a potential minority Tory government.

The Independent reports:

Ukip leader Nigel Farage will support a minority Conservative Government if Prime Minster David Cameron offers to hold the EU referendum he’s promised voters – before Christmas this year….

Despite offering some support, the South Thanet candidate [Farage is standing for a seat in the British parliament] ruled out a former Coalition with the Tories, saying he was not interested in “ministerial car”.

He said: “I would look to do a deal where we would back key votes for them – such as the Budget – but in return for very specific criteria on an EU referendum.

“The terms of my deal with the Tories would be very precise and simple. I want a full and fair referendum to be held in 2015 to allow Britons to vote on being in or out of the European Union. There would be no wiggle room for ‘renegotiation’ somewhere down the line’.

“The EU is facing an existential crisis and, given that it only takes a few weeks to launch and organise a referendum, it should be held in 2015.”

Hmmm…

Yes there needs to be a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, and it needs to he held without the procrastination and the ambiguity that David Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ strategy is designed to create. But a rushed vote based on what would be widely seen as a ‘right-wing’ political stitch-up is hardly likely to convince those millions of Britons unenthusiastic about the EU, but nervous about life ‘outside’, to opt for Brexit. This nervousness will be exploited to the full by those in the political and (big) business establishments (and their cheerleaders in the media).

To borrow the acronym created by EUReferendum’s Richard North, ‘FUD’ (“Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) will be a powerful weapon in the armory of the pro-EU crowd. A back-of-the-envelope referendum will only increase its power.

In a post the other day, North talked about the issue of what he referred to as the “crucial issue” of “absorption capacity”, the ability of a system to absorb change. 

North notes how Mark Leonard, a prominent British pro-EU activist, has written about: “the chaos unleashed by a Brexit”, and in particular, “the thousands of hours that would need to go into re-writing laws and negotiating new terms”. “Untying the links between the UK and its closest partners”, Leonard adds: “would consume a huge amount of political and bureaucratic energy”.

Leonard is right about that, but as North has long argued, there is an alternative. It begins by submitting formal notice of an intention to quit under Article 50 of the EU Treaty (no nonsense about renegotiations). That gives two years to work out a deal. What that deal should be is for post-Brexit Britain to have an arrangement with the EU much like Norway’s, a deal that would preserve trading relations more or less ‘as is’, and would involve the UK repatriating the EU ‘acquis’ (its law, basically) and continuing to abide by it, albeit on a different legal basis. As North puts it, this is only an “interim solution”, the first stage in a gradual reorientation of Britain’s relationship with the EU. This might not (for euroskeptics) be as emotionally exhilarating as a complete break, but it would be much more likely to win the approval of voters in a way that a rushed vote and vague talk of the opportunities in the wider world would not.

Owen Paterson, a smart right-of-center Conservative fired (naturally!) from his ministerial job by David Cameron made an important speech on this topic last year. It included this passage:

Answering the question of how we leave the political arrangements of EU is every bit as important as addressing the question why. Even people who are broadly in favour of withdrawal are unlikely to commit to the process unless they are assured that all the angles have been covered. A definitive plan will give the necessary reassurance.

Voters have not been presented with a clear vision of what life outside the EU would look like for the UK and in the absence of any detail I am convinced that if an “in-out” referendum were held today, there would be a natural tendency to vote for the status quo….

The same would be true of any 2015 vote. 

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