Britain’s voyage to a destination unknown led by a captain unfound

The EU Consumer Rights Directive — one among a plethora of rights that millions of British voters blithely threw away on Thursday — affords European citizens the right to change their minds after the rather unmomentous action of, for instance, buying some Tupperware. The assumption is that consumers deserve protection from deceptive sales practices. In transactions that involve false promises, the buyer has a right to determine she made a mistake and get her money back.

Why should British voters not now have some analogous way of rectifying a choice that some — perhaps many — now view as having been made in error?

“I was very disappointed about the results [of the EU referendum]. Even though I voted to leave, this morning I woke up and the reality did actually hit me. But if I had the opportunity to vote again, it would be to stay,” a British voter humbly admitted when interviewed at Manchester Airport on Friday.

How many other voters share her “buyer’s remorse”?

And how many people voted Leave as a symbolic protest, confident that as pollsters, bookkeepers, the financial markets, and the media told them, Remain would win? In other words, how many votes were cast for Leave on the assumption it wouldn’t happen?

Never mind. Britain has spoken. What has been done can’t now be undone — at least that’s the consensus voiced by the political establishment. Indeed, some European leaders were quick to reinforce that conclusion by declaring, “leave means leave.”

But is there really no way to reverse Brexit?

Is the notion of a reversal an affront to democracy? Would it dangerously compound the existing instability? Or might it instead reflect a basic human understanding that people individually and collectively on occasions make terrible mistakes and that mistakes can often be rectified.

What inviolable political principle is it that says 65 million people need to suffer the consequences of the ill-considered choices of a minority?

The promise offered by Leave was for “independence,” “sovereignty,” and “taking our country back.” It sounded wonderfully straightforward. The reality of complex, messy, and protracted withdrawal negotiations will reveal, however, that the destination towards which Britain is now headed is actually unknown.

The ballot paper looked simple: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

But after the voting had finished, the top two questions being asked on Google in the UK were, “What does it mean to leave the EU?” and “What is the EU?

While making its recommendations on the exact wording of the referendum last September, Britain’s Electoral Commission noted:

Referendum campaigners have a key role to play in informing people what the issues are in a referendum. The campaigns are the main source for highlighting to potential voters the implications of each potential outcome, encouraging people to vote and influencing how they vote. [My emphasis]

Yet as a BBC report in April pointed out:

Just about everything in the EU referendum debate is contestable, as soon as one side produces a “fact”, the other side challenges it with a contradictory “fact”.

At the end of the 16-page leaflet the British government circulated around the UK in April, it said:

This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.

Following David Cameron’s decision to step down as prime minister and before the process of EU withdrawal begins, the British people are boarding a ship taking them to a destination unknown led by a captain who has yet to be found.

The European Council says:

We now expect the United Kingdom government to give effect to this decision of the British people as soon as possible, however painful that process may be.

At the same time, it underlines the fact that the:

United Kingdom remains a member of the European Union, with all the rights and obligations that derive from this. According to the Treaties which the United Kingdom has ratified, EU law continues to apply to the full to and in the United Kingdom until it is no longer a Member.

The process doesn’t begin until Britain’s prime minister invokes Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union and who that prime minister is, given that we know it won’t be David Cameron, is a choice that should in fact be determined neither by Conservative Members of Parliament, nor the Conservative Party Conference.

It’s time for a general election.

Whoever then ends up as Britain’s next prime minister will, by the electorate, have explicitly been assigned the task of taking the UK out of the EU.

If it turns out, however, that British voters, through the parliamentary system, end up placing in office another prime minister who unequivocally favors continued membership of the UK in the EU, then it seems perfectly reasonable to conclude that Britain will have spoken once again but this time exercised its right to say, we made a mistake.

Divorce papers once served, don’t have to be signed. They can be torn up.

Whether through a general election or by an undemocratic process, Boris Johnson is likely to become Britain’s next prime minister.

But before that happens, the British public should be in little doubt that by leading Brexit, Johnson was simply trying to hoodwink his way into Downing Street.

This is what fellow Conservative MP and government minister, Anna Soubry, now says:

You look at all the newspaper columns he’s ever written — he’s never said, “I’m for Out.” And he positively told people — people like Nicholas Soames — “I’m no Outer.” And when I confronted Boris with all of this, all he will ever say to me is, “It’ll be alright, it’ll all be alright.” And you know what I think? I think he didn’t think that they would win. That’s why it was going to be alright. But for his own interests, wanting to be Prime Minister, he went for Leave, because it would serve him.



Brexit and the anti-Western-establishment armchair revolutionaries

What does one need to understand about the EU or the implication’s of the UK’s withdrawal if this can be characterized as a hammer blow to the Western establishment. The power of Western elites is crumbling — what’s not to celebrate?

In such a spirit, Glenn Greenwald (who while on billionaire Pierre Omidyar’s payroll is, I assume, comfortably insulated from the crisis rocking Brazil right now) writes:

Revolts against corrupt elite institutions can usher in reform and progress, but they can also create a space for the ugliest tribal impulses: xenophobia, authoritarianism, racism, fascism. One sees all of that, both good and bad, manifesting in the anti-establishment movements throughout the U.S., Europe, and the UK: including Brexit. All of this can be invigorating, or promising, or destabilizing, or dangerous: most likely a combination of all that.

The solution is not to subserviently cling to corrupt elite institutions out of fear of the alternatives. It is, instead, to help bury those institutions and their elite mavens and then fight for superior replacements. [My emphasis]

Corrupt elites always try to persuade people to continue to submit to their dominance in exchange for protection from forces that are even worse. That’s their game. But at some point, they themselves, and their prevailing order, become so destructive, so deceitful, so toxic, that their victims are willing to gamble that the alternatives will not be worse, or at least, they decide to embrace the satisfaction of spitting in the faces of those who have displayed nothing but contempt and condescension for them.

One of the many problems with this perspective that the old order must be destroyed before a “superior replacement” can be created, is that the champions of such destruction tend to be, in significant ways, privileged themselves.

To have sympathy with the legitimacy of popular grievances yet willing to overlook the disastrous consequences of the chosen solutions to those grievances is like having a complacent attitude towards alcoholism or other forms of self-destructive behavior simply because you understand what took someone down that path.

It’s a strange kind of sympathy that feels one source of pain while discounting another.

At the same time, it’s ironic that the cheerleaders of the destruction of the Western establishment — proponents of their own vision of regime change — have mostly had such short-lived sympathy for popular uprisings in the Middle East.

At this point, there’s surely good reason to jettison all the slogans about revolutionary change and start thinking more seriously about the mechanics of change. It’s always easier to talk about where you want to go, than figure out exactly how to get there. Who wants to get mired in boring details when they can instead indulge in fantasies about burying institutions?

If an overwhelming majority of British voters had opted for Brexit then it would be impossible to argue against the will of the people. But the vote was divided almost exactly in half — evidence I would suggest that support for the EU runs much deeper than might be expected if this is nothing more than an instrument serving the interests of the corrupt Western elite. Indeed, the narrative that casts this as primarily a struggle between elites and the disadvantaged, glosses over the fact that support for Brexit came from older people, while younger Britons have grown up with fewer reasons to regard Europe and the EU as other.

This is a generational betrayal and an ominous turning point in history.

If there’s one class of people who have reason to be pleased about Brexit, it is the lawyers who will henceforth be employed helping untangle a decade’s worth of legal disputes.

Those who imagine that since the UK has now made its choice, withdrawal from the EU can be expedited and happen as swiftly as the remaining EU members hope, here’s piece of history that puts this issue in perspective.

In 1982, Greenland held a referendum which resulted in its choice to leave the EEC (precursor of the EU which then had ten members). Negotiations for its withdrawal took over two years to complete. Greenland looks big on a world map but it has a population of just 55,000.

So, two years of negotiations between on one side a European Community a third of its current size and on the other a state which is basically a fishing town on the edge of an ice-sheet. And keep in mind that Greenland (as part of Denmark) had been part of the community for less than a decade and had not played a central role in shaping Europe’s institutions.

As much as the EU can be cast as some external, overbearing bureaucratic entity, it is an entity in which the UK has spent the last four decades as one of its leading members. Many of the laws from which Brexiters imagine they are soon to be unshackled are laws that Britain helped draft, wanted in place, and served British interests.

This will be like so many other divorces where so many things once shared, now have to be replaced. The absurdity of the fantasy about liberation from red tape is that the UK has now brought on its own head the worst imaginable bureaucratic nightmare.

Finally, on a personal note, even though I have lived in the United States for almost thirty years and am a U.S. citizen, I am also a British citizen, the country of my birth where I grew up. I’m surprised my how often I hear Americans refer to “British subjects” as though we remain under the control of a monarch, but I assure you “citizen” is the term in our passports.

Until I moved to America, I never referred to myself as “British” — a phrase loaded with so much ugly historical baggage; an identity which among members of my generation conjures up images of Alf Garnett and small-minded rightwing bigots who cling to memories of empire and who like to wave the Union Jack.

I liked instead the idea of being European, not as distinct from non-European but as distinct from an identity defined and limited by an island’s shoreline.

For the same reason, I like Barry Cunliffe’s topographical description of Europe as “the westerly excrescence of the continent of Asia.”

The basic point is that I think it’s good for all people to feel that they are part of something larger — that we don’t confine ourselves by boundaries but have an interest in what lies beyond them.

This is what makes Brexit so depressing, because aside from the economic repercussions, it represents a psychological process of withdrawal in which everyone will be diminished.


Why Brexit ‘will be a very, very nasty divorce’ which could go on for a decade — legal perspectives

Among British voters who supported Brexit, there were probably quite a number who upon seeing the news on Friday morning concluded: That’s it! Britain is out of the EU.

To understand why the withdrawal process will in fact be “a complex and daunting task,” it’s necessary to dig into some of the legal details of the process.

On March 8, The Select Committee on the European Union in the House of Lords, sought evidence from two experts in the field of EU law: Sir David Edward KCMG, QC, PC, FRSE, a former Judge of the Court of Justice of the European Union and Professor Emeritus at the School of Law, University of Edinburgh; and Professor Derrick Wyatt QC, Emeritus Professor of Law, Oxford University, and also of Brick Court Chambers.

What follows are some excerpts from their public testimony. Questions came from members of the Committee.

Professor Derrick Wyatt: … with respect to the fate of EU legislation, we tend to look at it as legislation that is imposed upon us. That is not accurate. Part of the way that British Governments have successively exercised their policies has been through the machinery of the European Union. If we look at legislation on equality in the workplace or on the environment, or we look at our company law, these are not all alien mechanisms to our detriment that have been forced upon us. Many of them are pieces of legislation that are regarded as currently important and still receive strong support. It would take years for Government and Parliament properly to review the corpus of European law, jettison what was not wanted and keep what would be wanted — in my view, the majority.

Professor Derrick Wyatt: Greenland shows that even mildly complicated issues can take quite a long time. The population of Greenland is 55,000. Its issues are mainly around fishing, and transitional rules took two years to negotiate. [A referendum in 1982 led Greenland to withdraw from the EEC, a process completed in 1985.]

Professor Derrick Wyatt: The Open Europe think tank recently published some comparative information on how long it takes to negotiate various types of agreement. Agreements negotiated by the EU were taking between four and seven years. If one looks at agreements negotiated by countries between themselves outside the EU, they seem to take between four and nine years. All that shows one is that these things can take a long time.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I am not clear on the position of the UK with regard to the day-to-day business of the EU going forward. While all this negotiation is going on, it will be getting on with other things. What is the status of the UK during that period, which could be up to a decade?

Sir David Edward: The UK remains a member state. Strictly speaking, we become chairman of the Council. We have the presidency of the Council in 2017. Strictly speaking, it just continues.

Professor Derrick Wyatt: Under the trio system, every presidency acts in conjunction with the next two in line. A few days after the Brexit referendum the UK would join the trio, with Slovakia and Malta. What does the trio do? Forward planning and continuity. We would be in that trio, we would be in the next trio and then we would have the presidency. Forward planning and continuity would be weaknesses for the UK. On the other hand, there would be some issues we would want to stay in on: for example, common foreign and security policy and sanctions against rogue states. The UK has an enormous influence, and our interests are served by that. We would not want to disengage politically from decisions such as that. Suppose there were a meeting on duties on imports of dumped Chinese steel. The UK would want to be involved with that.

Lord Whitty: But is it up to the UK?

Professor Derrick Wyatt: Yes, it would be up to the UK, but the UK would have to work hard to maintain political credibility. The other side of that would be some selective disengagement, because where it was not working the UK would have to say, “We can understand why this bit won’t work and we are not trying to undermine this organisation”.

Lord Borwick: What are the legal implications if, as you say, the withdrawal negotiations take more than two years, as we all expect they would, and no extension is given? It has to be given unanimously [by all 27 member states], as I understand it. I am not sure what the incentive is for all the other states to agree to that extension?

Professor Derrick Wyatt: It is £8 billion a year in net contributions, and access to the UK market for workers and for motor cars. All the member states in the EU believe they benefit from the internal market. They will continue to believe that and there will be a minor budgetary crisis the day that the UK financial net contribution ceases. I am not saying that people always act according to their best interests if their blood is up. This would be one of the huge risks. If, for example, the UK were to jump the gun and insist on imposing unilateral restrictions on immigration while negotiations were going on, the climate would disintegrate. We would not be able to carry on in the spirit of considered mutual self-interest.

Lord Borwick: I entirely agree with you, but as far as a lot of voters are concerned, after a decision on Brexit has been made, they will believe that is the point at which Brexit takes place. They will not understand the details of Article 50 or the two years, let alone the other implications that you have brought forward. Will they not demand some instant withdrawal politically?

Professor Derrick Wyatt: I do not think it is feasible for politicians now to have a plan B, but it is essential that our Civil Service has a procedural plan B. I put my cards on the table. I shall vote to remain. I am not wishing for this to happen. If it does happen, we shall all be in the same boat and there will be huge national self-interest in moving forward in a very considered way without jumping the gun in directions that could torpedo the negotiations before they start. There will be a major learning curve for some politicians, obviously — present company excepted — and the electorate as to what needs to be done to achieve British self-interest. This is not a question of concessions to others; it is how we achieve what we would want to achieve. I agree that the man or woman in the street might expect, on the day we vote out, that with one bound we are free.

Lord Borwick: Yes, together with the newspapers, the television and others. The first time that a directive comes through with which we disagree and on which we have had no comment but which we will be bound with, there will be a really big row, one presumes.

Professor Derrick Wyatt: That is where the trick will be such a hard one — forging political consensus across the parties to move forward in a way that serves our best interests.

Lord Borwick: As you said, there has to be political consensus across the parties, including presumably the SNP [Scottish National Party], which has a different interest in this matter.

Professor Derrick Wyatt: Yes, but there will be the same interest in what the SNP might say is the short to medium term, because it has aspirations to leave the UK in the longer term.

Sir David Edward: I go back to about a month ago when I was giving a lecture in Germany organised jointly by a university and the German-British Friendship Society of that particular province or Land. The chairman of the German-British Friendship Society said, “Make no mistake about it: if there is a vote to leave, it will be a very, very nasty divorce”.

The Chairman [Lord Boswell]: There is a follow-up point — forgive us — which is the question of acquired rights under EU law. In a sense, trade might be simple because there is a machinery. I am not aware of any machinery for safeguarding acquired rights. Do either of you have a comment on that?

Sir David Edward: Could I give you some examples of what would need to be negotiated? A businessman in two different member states has a contract for the supply of components at a fixed price over a period of years that extends beyond the two-year period. What happens if there is an immediate exit? Is customs duty then payable and does that disrupt the contract? What are the consequences? A university has an EU research funding package with provision for cross-frontier movement of research scientists, and that has a life beyond two years. What happens to that? What happens to Erasmus students? When does participation in Erasmus end? A divorced couple live in the UK and another member state with special arrangements for access to children, and particularly cross-border payment of family maintenance. What happens to that? There are cross-border investments and tax treatment of capital and revenue. There are agricultural support payments and fishing quotas. Those are just examples.

Lord Mawson: Has anyone considered practically, given the process you are describing, how many zeros there will be on the legal bill for all of this?

Sir David Edward: I echo the feeling of one of my contemporaries, an EU lawyer, who said, “I thank God for my mortality”. The long-term ghastliness of the legal complications is almost unimaginable. Certainly, there will be people who will make a great deal of money out of it.

Lord Davies of Stamford: Do you think that the Government’s assessment of the risks, uncertainties and potential costs of withdrawal are overstated, understated or reasonably stated?

Sir David Edward: I think potentially they are understated. You should be apprehensive.

Professor Derrick Wyatt: I prefer not to comment on the Government’s proposals. In the Government’s White Paper, they say a number of things, but I would rather confine myself to specific issues. On the specific issues, it seems to me that there is a considerable level of uncertainty and the immediate effect of Brexit would be that the pound would go down, the Stock Exchange would go down and the cost of public sector borrowing would go up, which is why the Bank of England at the moment is making contingency plans to bail out the banks. I find those things worrying.

Lord Davies of Stamford: You do not think that the Government have overstated the hazards of withdrawal.

Professor Derrick Wyatt: I do not want to take a position on what the Government say. I would rather indicate precisely what my concerns are and give a reason as to why I am concerned. Those are my concerns, but if there is Brexit we are all in the same boat and we would have to make the very best of it that we could. That would mean coming together in a strong cross-party consensus to show the EU that we could negotiate a long-term agreement that would stick, and that we would not be running backwards and forwards trying to renegotiate things. We would have to do that or business would lose confidence in the future. If that is scaremongering, I am guilty of scaremongering. I think that is a sober assessment, but it is mine and not the Government’s.

Baroness Suttie: What legislative measures would be necessary to extinguish the application of EU law in the devolved nations [Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales]? I have a specific question to Sir David, if I may. Do you think that the Scottish Parliament would be likely to grant legislative consent? If they did not, what would be the consequences?

Sir David Edward: The formal consequence is this. Under Section 29 of the Scotland Act 1998 the Scottish Parliament is bound by EU law, and, ditto, under Section 57(2) the Scottish Government are bound by EU law. Under the Scotland Bill that is going through Parliament at the moment, the Sewel convention will be recognised in Section 2 if it becomes an Act. Therefore, as I see it, you would have to amend the Scotland Act and, therefore, you would have to have legislative consent from the Scottish Parliament. I can envisage certain political advantages being drawn from not acceding to the legislative consent — creating difficulties about it.


Parliamentary fightback against Brexit on cards

The Guardian reports: The prospect of a parliamentary fightback against the result of the EU referendum gathered pace on Sunday, with pro-remain figures saying they would not “roll over and give up”.

Some are urging a second referendum after Brexit negotiations have taken place.

Lord Heseltine has pointed to the practicalities of an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons against leaving the EU. “There is a majority of something like 350 in the House of Commons broadly in favour of the European relationship,” he said.

“There is no way you are going to get those people to say black is white and change their minds unless a) they know what the deal is and b) it has been supported either by an election or by another referendum,” Heseltine told Sky News. “So there’s a dramatic urgency to get on with the negotiations.”

He called for a cross-party group of MPs to look at the options and “articulate the case for Britain rethinking the result of the referendum”. [Continue reading…]

When David Cameron announced his resignation he concluded his remarks by saying, “I love this country, and I feel honored to have served it, and I will do everything I can do in future to help this great country succeed.”

I’m neither a fan of Cameron’s nor a sucker for patriotic declarations, yet I haven’t the slightest doubt that his declaration of love for this country was completely sincere. Neither am I in any doubt about which country he was referring to: the United Kingdom.

No one can be in any doubt that withdrawal from the EU will set the UK on a path to further fragmentation as Scotland seeks independence and Northern Ireland struggles with the consequences of a tightly controlled border.

Cameron said:

We must now prepare for a negotiation with the European Union. This will need to involve the full engagement of the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Ireland governments to ensure that the interests of all parts of our United Kingdom are protected and advanced.

In making this point he was perhaps intimating that while refusing to question the choice of the British people, neither he nor anyone else can question the fact that Britain did not speak with one voice on Thursday.

Even in the English regions where Leave won, none of them reached 60%. The most emphatic results came from Scotland with 62% and London with 59.9% with each choosing Remain.

Unlike the 1975 referendum where, with 67.2% favoring continued membership of the European Community, British voters sent their government a clear message, the instruction coming from the British people in 2016 is riddled with ambiguity.

Cameron nevertheless said “there can be no doubt about the result” and “the will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered” but he hedged on the timing of that process — he says that’s a decision for his successor.

There is now a mood in which few in the political establishment are eager to rush forward — including the leaders of the Leave camp.

As much as this period of hesitation might frustrate those in the EU whose patience with the UK has already expired, a time for reflection is a good thing. It creates a space in which new possibilities can be explored.

Having stepped back from the cliff’s edge there is perhaps a growing recognition that there is in fact no irresistible force compelling anyone to jump.

Maybe Cameron will never make a public mea culpa, but perhaps behind closed doors in Brussels he can admit he made the greatest political blunder of his career.

It’s already cost him his job, but if he wants to help his country succeed, he first has to prevent it falling apart. The only way of doing that is to navigate a reversal.

As much as the EU wants to mitigate the harm incurred by the UK’s decision to withdraw, rather than trying to get this process started and finished as fast as possible, it would be in everyone’s interests if the process doesn’t even begin.

That should not mean entering into a period of prolonged uncertainty. What it requires is a massive course correction.

Cynics will say this is what politicians do all the time — promise one thing and then end up doing the opposite. But in a representative democracy, leaders of good conscience know there are times when to do the right thing means to risk facing public anger.

Having recognized his failure, Cameron may be in a better position than anyone else to put the future of the UK first without allowing his judgement to get swayed by considerations of personal advantage.


English nationalists have planted a bomb under Irish peace

Fintan O’Toole writes: All but a few diehards had learned to live with the partition of the island of Ireland. Why? Because the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic had become so soft as to be barely noticeable. If you crossed it, you had to change currencies, and if you were driving you had to remember that the speed limits were changing from kilometres per hour to miles. But these are just banal details. They do not impinge on the simple, ordinary experience of people sharing an island without having to be deeply conscious of division.

What will now happen is not that the old border will come back. It’s much worse than that. The old border marked the line between neighbouring polities that had a common travel area and an intimate, if often fraught, relationship. It was a customs barrier. The new border will be the most westerly land frontier of a vast entity of more than 400 million people, and it will be an immigration (as well as a customs) barrier.

It will, if the Brexiters’ demands to take back control of immigration to the UK are meant seriously, have to be heavily policed to keep EU migrants who have lawfully entered the Republic from moving into the UK. And it will run between Newry and Dundalk, between Letterkenny and Derry. The Dublin-Belfast train will have to stop for passport controls. (Given that the border could not be secured with army watchtowers during the Troubles, it is not at all clear how this policing operation will work.)

Meanwhile, the cornerstone of the peace settlement, the Belfast agreement of 1998, is being undermined. One of the key provisions of the agreement is that anyone born in Northern Ireland has the right to be a citizen of the UK or Ireland or both. What does that mean in the new dispensation? Can someone be both an EU citizen and not an EU citizen? Likewise, the agreement underpins human rights through the “complete incorporation into Northern Ireland law of the European Convention on Human Rights”. Though not strictly required by Brexit, the leave leadership is committed to removing the convention from UK law – in other words to ripping out a core part of the peace settlement. [Continue reading…]

Kathryn Gaw writes: Almost 20 years have passed since the Good Friday Agreement, and huge progress has been made in that time. Since our last referendum in 1998, Northern Ireland has enjoyed relative peace, and the province has flourished. The tourist industry is now worth £723m and the economy has been further boosted by the surprise emergence of the local film industry, which hosts the Game of Thrones cast and crew for six months of the year. The IT industry is also growing, and there are plans to attract even more private investment by bringing corporate tax down to 12.5%, in line with the Republic of Ireland.

The majority of this growth has been courtesy of the EU itself. Northern Ireland received almost £2.5bn in the last EU funding round, and a further £2bn is promised before 2020. The EU has also helped to create a number of cross-border programmes such as Intertrade, Peace and Tourism Ireland, all of which have been hugely successful in bringing together communities both north and south of the border. Today, Northern Ireland is more integrated than it has ever been – even if sectarian attacks and marching season riots haven’t been eliminated completely. [Continue reading…]


Will Article 50 ever be triggered?

The Guardian reports: When David Cameron delivered his resignation speech outside No 10 on Friday, he said he would leave the task of triggering article 50 of the Lisbon treaty – the untested procedure governing how an EU member state leaves the bloc – to his successor.

This has prompted much speculation – and a glimmer of hope – for those who want Britain to remain in the European Union. Cameron, they argue, had repeatedly said during the campaign that article 50 would be triggered immediately if Vote Leave were to win the Brexit referendum.

By not doing so, the theory is, and by handing the responsibility to whoever succeeds him, Cameron has handed the next prime minister a poisoned chalice. Given the dramatic reaction to Brexit – on world stock markets, on the foreign exchanges, in Scotland, across Europe – and with the enormity of the consequences of leaving the EU now plain, who will dare pull the trigger?

One consequence of this, as a below-the-line commenter argued on the Guardian website, is that Cameron has effectively snookered the Brexit camp: they may have won the referendum, but they cannot use the mandate they have been given because if they do so they will be seen to be knowingly condemning the UK to recession, breakup and years of pain.

This could mean, as lawyer and writer David Allen Green has suggested in a blogpost, that “the longer article 50 notification is put off, the greater the chance it will never be made … As long as the notification is not sent, the UK remains part of the EU. And there is currently no reason or evidence to believe that, regardless of the referendum result, the notification will be sent at all.” [Continue reading…]

The Guardian also reports: [Prominent Brexit campaigner Dr] Liam Fox cast doubt on the necessity of triggering the article 50 clause of the Lisbon treaty that sets out the legal process for a country’s EU withdrawal.

“A lot of things were said in advance of this referendum that we might want to think about again and that [invoking article 50] is one of them,” said the Conservative MP.

“I think that it doesn’t make any sense to trigger article 50 without having a period of reflection first, for the cabinet to determine exactly what it is that we’re going to be seeking and in what timescale.” [Continue reading…]


Brexit is a rejection of globalization

Larry Elliott writes: In the age of globalisation, the idea was that a more integrated Europe would collectively serve as the bulwark that nation states could no longer provide. Britain, France, Germany or Italy could not individually resist the power of trans-national capital, but the EU potentially could. The way forward was clear. Move on from a single market to a single currency, a single banking system, a single budget and eventually a single political entity.

That dream is now over. As Charles Grant, the director of the Centre for European Reform thinktank put it: “Brexit is a momentous event in the history of Europe and from now on the narrative will be one of disintegration not integration.”

The reason is obvious. Europe has failed to fulfil the historic role allocated to it. Jobs, living standards and welfare states were all better protected in the heyday of nation states in the 1950s and 1960s than they have been in the age of globalisation. Unemployment across the eurozone is more than 10%. Italy’s economy is barely any bigger now than it was when the euro was created. Greece’s economy has shrunk by almost a third. Austerity has eroded welfare provision. Labour market protections have been stripped away.

Inevitably, there has been a backlash, manifested in the rise of populist parties on the left and right. An increasing number of voters believe there is not much on offer from the current system. They think globalisation has benefited a small privileged elite, but not them. They think it is unfair that they should pay the price for bankers’ failings. They hanker after a return to the security that the nation state provided, even if that means curbs on the core freedoms that underpin globalisation, including the free movement of people.

This has caused great difficulties for Europe’s mainstream parties, but especially those of the centre left. They have been perfectly happy to countenance the idea of curbs on capital movements such as a financial transaction tax, and have no problems with imposing tariffs to prevent the dumping of Chinese steel. They feel uncomfortable, however, with the idea that there should be limits on the free movement of people.

The risk is that if the mainstream parties don’t respond to the demands of their traditional supporters, they will be replaced by populist parties who will. The French Socialist party has effectively lost most of its old blue-collar working class base to the hard left and the hard right, and in the UK there is a danger that the same thing will happen to the Labour party, where Jeremy Corbyn’s laissez-faire approach to immigration is at odds with the views of many voters in the north that supported Ed Miliband in the 2015 general election, but who plumped for Brexit last week.

There are those who argue that globalisation is now like the weather, something we can moan about but not alter. This is a false comparison. The global market economy was created by a set of political decisions in the past and it can be shaped by political decisions taken in the future. [Continue reading…]


Liberal Democrats pledge to keep Britain in the EU after next election

The Independent reports: The Liberal Democrats will stand at the next general election on a platform of derailing Brexit and keeping Britain in the European Union, the party has announced.

Leader Tim Farron said on Saturday night that he would be “clear and unequivocal” with voters that if elected it would set aside the referendum result and keep Britain in the EU.

He said the referendum result amounted to a “howl of anger” at politicians and that the election of a liberal government would be a way of registering a change of heart by the electorate

Though the next general election is scheduled for 2020 under the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA), David Cameron’s resignation and major loopholes in the legislation mean it could come as early as the autumn or early next year. [Continue reading…]

In the 2015 general election, the Liberal Democrats got hammered — down from 57 seats in parliament to just 8. If staying in the EU depends on the Liberal Democrats winning an election, it’s not going to happen.

Still, why shouldn’t all those MPs in the current parliament who supported Remain — which is to say, the majority — also renew that commitment in the next election? Anyone who gets elected on a “pledged to stay” slogan can’t be accused of deceiving the voters if they then act on that pledge in parliament.

Instead of there being any need for another referendum, the election of an even more vocally pro-EU parliament, would surely send a strong enough signal that Britain, having been led up to the edge of a chasm, looked down and made the judicious decision not to jump.


Great Britain reckons with possible future as Little England

The Washington Post reports: For centuries, this modest little island in the North Sea has punched well above its weight on the international stage: It built a global empire, beat back the Nazi tide and stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States during a decades-long standoff with the Soviets.

But now that Britain has stunned the world with its decision to exit the European Union, experts say it will be focused inward for the foreseeable future.

“I don’t think there will be the capacity or the infrastructure to look outward in the next five years,” said Ian Kearns, director of the London-based European Leadership Network. “With all our diplomatic resources focused on extracting concessions from the E.U., we won’t be in anything other than reactive mode on other issues.”

That reality could bring a significantly diminished role on the great challenges facing the West, including Russia, the Islamic State, refugees and climate change.

For Washington, Britain’s distraction will be acutely felt. Britain has long been the United States’ closest ally, one that broadly shares American interests and values, and has always formed a crucial bridge across the Atlantic.

The United States looked to Britain when it needed to influence European decision-making. The E.U. turned to Britain when it hoped to influence the United States.

Now, the loss of Britain’s voice in efforts to present a united European and American front on issues such as sanctions against Russia is particularly worrisome to U.S. officials, said Philip Gordon, a former assistant secretary of state for European affairs in the Obama administration.

“That voice will no longer be there when withdrawal is complete,” Gordon said. Instead, Britain will be preoccupied with its “great domestic convulsion.” [Continue reading…]


Britain’s young: Betrayed by their elders — and by themselves

The decision to exit the EU will impact the UK’s younger generation most of all and among 18-24 year-olds who voted, 75% voted Remain.

Yet that preponderance of support for Remain turned out to be of little consequence — 64% didn’t bother voting.

If the turnout among the young had been as high as it was among the old, Remain would have won.


In new poll, support for Trump has plunged, giving Clinton a double-digit lead

The Washington Post reports: Support for Donald Trump has plunged as he has alienated fellow Republicans and large majorities of voters overall in the course of a month of self-inflicted controversies, propelling Democrat Hillary Clinton to a double-digit lead nationally in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey finds sweeping unease with the presumptive Republican nominee’s candidacy — from his incendiary rhetoric and values to his handling of both terrorism and his own business — foreshadowing that the November election could be a referendum on Trump more than anything else. [Continue reading…]


Music: National Health — ‘Apocalypso’



‘If you’ve got money, you vote In … if you haven’t got money, you vote Out’

John Harris writes: “If you’ve got money, you vote in,” she said, with a bracing certainty. “If you haven’t got money, you vote out.” We were in Collyhurst, the hard-pressed neighbourhood on the northern edge of Manchester city centre last Wednesday, and I had yet to find a remain voter. The woman I was talking to spoke of the lack of a local park, or playground, and her sense that all the good stuff went to the regenerated wonderland of big city Manchester, 10 minutes down the road.

Only an hour earlier, I had been in Manchester at a graduate recruitment fair, where nine out of 10 of our interviewees were supporting remain, and some voices spoke about leave voters with a cold superiority. “In the end, this is the 21st century,” said one twentysomething. “Get with it.” Not for the first time, the atmosphere around the referendum had the sulphurous whiff not just of inequality, but a kind of misshapen class war.

And now here we are, with that terrifying decision to leave. Most things in the political foreground are finished, aren’t they? Cameron and Osborne. The Labour party as we know it, now revealed once again as a walking ghost, whose writ no longer reaches its supposed heartlands. Scotland – which at the time of writing had voted to stay in the EU by 62% to 38% – is already independent in most essential political and cultural terms, and will presumably soon be decisively on its way.

Sinn Féin is claiming that the British government “has forfeited any mandate to represent the economic or political interests of people in Northern Ireland”. These are seismic things to happen in peacetime, and this is surely as dramatic a moment for the United Kingdom as – when? The postwar datelines rattle through one’s mind – 1979, 1997, 2010 – and come nowhere near.

Because, of course, this is about so much more than the European Union. It is about class, and inequality, and a politics now so professionalised that it has left most people staring at the rituals of Westminster with a mixture of anger and bafflement. Tangled up in the moment are howling political failures that only compounded that problem: Iraq, the MPs’ expenses scandal, the way that Cameron’s flip from big society niceness to hard-faced austerity compounded all the cliches about people you cannot trust, answerable only to themselves (something that applied equally to the first victims of our new politics, the Liberal Democrats).

Most of all, Brexit is the consequence of the economic bargain struck in the early 1980s, whereby we waved goodbye to the security and certainties of the postwar settlement, and were given instead an economic model that has just about served the most populous parts of the country, while leaving too much of the rest to anxiously decline. [Continue reading…]


Britain’s democratic failure

Kenneth Rogoff writes: the current international standard for breaking up a country is arguably less demanding than a vote for lowering the drinking age.

With Europe now facing the risk of a slew of further breakup votes, an urgent question is whether there is a better way to make these decisions. I polled several leading political scientists to see whether there is any academic consensus; unfortunately, the short answer is no.

For one thing, the Brexit decision may have looked simple on the ballot, but in truth no one knows what comes next after a leave vote. What we do know is that, in practice, most countries require a “supermajority” for nation-defining decisions, not a mere 51 percent. There is no universal figure like 60 percent, but the general principle is that, at a bare minimum, the majority ought to be demonstrably stable. A country should not be making fundamental, irreversible changes based on a razor-thin minority that might prevail only during a brief window of emotion. Even if the UK economy does not fall into outright recession after this vote (the pound’s decline might cushion the initial blow), there is every chance that the resulting economic and political disorder will give some who voted to leave “buyer’s remorse.” [Continue reading…]

A UK petition calling for a second EU referendum has already received over two million signatures.


Among young Britons, fear and despair over vote to leave EU

The New York Times reports: As the bands played on at the Glastonbury music festival in Somerset, England, Lewis Phillips and his friends drowned their sorrows in song and alcohol.

“We’re the ones who’ve got to live with it for a long time, but a group of pensioners have managed to make a decision for us,” Mr. Phillips, 27, said on Friday of Britain’s decision to withdraw from the European Union. He said he was now “terrified” about the country’s economic prospects.

Louise Driscoll, a 21-year-old barista in London, spent most of the day crying. “I had a bad feeling in my gut,” she said of Britain’s referendum on Europe. “What do we do now? I’m very scared.” Her parents both voted to leave the bloc, she said, and “will probably be gloating.”

The vote to leave the European Union exposed tensions and fault lines in British society, but perhaps none more gaping than its generational divisions. [Continue reading…]