Brexit – Done Deal? Perhaps not
By John D. Turner
16 Jul 2016

So, the UK has voted and the answer is – “we're leaving!” But wait – not so fast; are they really?

Now that all the excitement has worn off, the smoke has cleared, and the world stock markets have cratered (and recovered from the shock), at the end of the day, the UK is still in the EU. And may not leave.

For one thing, the much ballyhooed vote is non-binding. That means that Parliament is not required to implement the voter’s decision. In order for the vote to actually mean anything, the Prime Minister must invoke what is known as Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Article 50 sets the ground rules on how a member of the EU can go about withdrawing from the Union. If Article 50 is not invoked, the UK stays in the European Union. The referendum does not require the Prime Minister or Parliament to act.

In fact, more than 1000 lawyers have signed and sent a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron pointing out just this fact (as if he didn’t already know that).

Even if Parliament does vote to invoke Article 50, that doesn’t automatically mean the UK is out. All it does is start the clock on a process that determines exactly how the UK will exit, a process that can take up to two years to complete. At any time during the process, the UK could decide not to leave after all, rendering the whole subject null and void.

Now you might argue that the people have spoken and Parliament darned well better listen if they want to keep their jobs, at least, in the House of Commons, which is the only elected body in the legislature; the House of Lords is mostly appointed from the peerage. The UK is a constitutional monarchy, remember.

For such a small country, the UK has a lot of legislators; the Commons has a defined 650-seat membership (note that our House of Representatives numbers only 435), while the Lords membership is not fixed, but currently numbers around 800 sitting Lords. That is 1235 legislators for a country of 64 million, while here in the US we have 535 for a population of around 322 million. And thus my article, back in 2004, on why we need more members of the House – but I digress.

It is important to note too, that the UK is not a monolithic state; it is in fact composed of four different countries – England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Each had a vote on BREXIT, and the end result was as follows: While the UK overall voted 52% to 48% to leave the EU, Scotland and Northern Ireland both voted to stay; 62% to 38% and 55.8% to 44.2% respectively.

This is important because Scotland just recently had a referendum on whether or not to stay in the United Kingdom. That vote took place in 2014 and at that time Scotland voted to remain part of the UK by a 55% to 45% margin. With Scotland voting by a wide margin to stay in the EU, there is renewed interest by some in Scotland to revisit that independence referendum. Recent polls in Scottish newspapers indicate that if an independence vote were held today it might well succeed.

A similar thing could happen in Northern Ireland, although the vote to stay there was by a smaller margin than in Scotland. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that has a border with another nation, in this case Ireland, which is a member of the EU. If Brexit is carried to its conclusion, and the UK does exit, this could cause a problem; currently, with both nations being part of the Union, the border is open and can be crossed freely.

One of the main points of leaving the EU was so that the UK could more tightly control immigration, which it can’t do now as all member nations have open borders. This point becomes moot if the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland remains open. However closing that border could cause problems for Northern Ireland.

There is serious worry that tightening down the border to the extent that would be required to control immigration would also lead to a re-ignition of the turbulent time from the late ‘60’s through 1998 known as “the Troubles.” A poll taken last year showed that most in Northern Ireland had no desire to reunify with the Republic of Ireland, with only 14% in favor and 86% opposed. Even Catholics living in Northern Ireland preferred to stay part of the UK. However with the UK voting to leave the EU, that may change.

Many world leaders, including Barack Obama, were pushing hard for Brexit to fail. Indeed, Mr. Obama, in a joint news conference with Prime Minister Cameron, warned Britain that if they left the EU, negotiating a trade agreement with them might take up to 10 years. Stating that the US is more interested in negotiating agreements with “groups of nations,” he followed up by remarking that “the UK is going to be in the back of the queue” in future trade deals with the United States.

This would not be the first time that the Obama administration has told the British that there is no “special relationship” between the two nations (unlike previous administrations), and that as far as the US is concerned, the UK is simply another country among many in the world.

Of course, now that the vote has been taken, Mr. Obama is supporting it. “We have to assume that a referendum having been passed with a lot of attention” and a relatively high participation rate “is going to stick,” Mr. Obama opined while meeting with NATO leaders in Warsaw. Of course, given his track record, support from Obama might easily be construed as meaning the UK will not leave after all.

There are plenty of people in the UK – politicians, influential business leaders, members of the press – you name it, that are opposed to Brexit, even after the vote has been taken. Reports are that more than 3 million British “residents” (not sure if that means citizens) have signed a petition supporting a revote. Of course, that should surprise no one since many more than 3 million were against leaving in the first place. Getting their signature on a petition would not seem to be that heavy an undertaking.

Many are calling for a new vote, and I expect that at some point that will happen. First will come the massive disinformation campaign, seeking to scare the populous to death, then will come the revote. Wash, rinse, and repeat until successful.

Democrats here in the US are masters of a variation of this tactic when it comes to elections. If the election is at all close, demand a recount. It is amazing how many new, uncounted ballots come to light in a recount, and how many already counted ballots can be thrown out for one reason or another. Continue recounting until your side wins. Once that happens, no further recounts are allowed.

Politicians are great with this on many issues they want passed that people oppose. Here in San Antonio, a good example is fluoride.

The question of whether or not to add fluoride to our water supply was voted on several times and each time the people voted it down. We were the largest metropolitan area to still abstain from adding fluoride to the water and this, according to our political class, was making us look like backward laughing-stock bumpkins compared to all the more progressive cities around the country.

So finally, tired of reintroducing the referendum every few years, the politicians tried it one last time. This time they tied it to a minor election in an off season year when few people would be expected to come to the polls. This time they were successful; in an election where only 2% of registered voters showed up to vote, the measure passed and San Antonio now “enjoys” the addition of fluoride to our drinking water. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Then of course, if all else fails, there are the courts. Many a referendum in California, voted on by the people in a democratic election, has been overturned by the court system in California, including an amendment to the state constitution which was subsequently struck down as being unconstitutional (with reference to the state, not the federal constitution).

Certainly I am not alone in expressing skepticism that Brexit will ever actually happen. Recently, Michael O’Leary, the CEO of Ryanair and one of Europe’s top CEOs has predicted the same. And he is hardly alone.

So while the referendum caused quite a stir, roiled the world stock market (and made/lost a lot of money for a lot of people), and gave those voting to leave quite a rush, nothing is certain at this point other than the vote was taken and the UK is still part of the EU. Two years is a long time (and that clock hasn’t even started yet) and anything could happen between now and then.

We shall just have to wait and see.