The Europhiles threw a great deal at the EU referendum campaign. There was the shameless use of government resources especially those of the Treasury to propagandise for the Remain side. The governor of the Bank of England enthusiastically supported the remain side. EU panjandrums directed dire threats of what the EU would do to Britain. A gigantic cast of the “great and the good” from finance, trade, industry, the media and politics (drawn from both Britain and abroad ) were daily paraded in front of the public like ancient oracles forecasting unalloyed disaster if Britain voted to leave the EU. Leading Tories in the Remain camp cast aspersions on the character of those supporting Leave – David Cameron even claimed that voting leave was immoral. Accusations of racism were routinely levelled against any leave supporter with a public voice who addressed the subject of immigration and the leave voters were labelled as xenophobes, bigots and racists. Most contemptibly when the Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered Remain supporters, including MPs, attempted by implication or direct accusation to link the killing with the Leave side’s position on immigration. So desperate were the government and Remain politicians generally to ensure a vote to remain that when the government web site which allowed people to register for a vote crashed two hours before the deadline for registering, Parliament did not hesitate to extend the deadline the next day (by 24 hours not two) in the belief that it would mean many more young voters (who generally favoured remaining in the EU) would vote.
It says much for the strength of character of the British that they refused to be cowed by this onslaught of propaganda and threats. The Remain camp started with Project Lie, moved to Project Fear and ended with Project Slander as their accusations of racism became ever more shrill as polling day approached. None of it worked. Their prophecies of doom were so frequent and so overblown that their hysterical warnings ended up looking like caricatures produced by the Leave side . The only thing which stopped the Leave campaign’s momentum was the death of Jo Cox which stopped campaigning for three days just as the polls were consistently showing increasing support for Leave. This break in momentum probably cost Leave several percentage points in the final poll as for a few days the polls swung back towards Remain.
There was also a strong tendency for the Remainers to patronise the leavers by implying or saying directly that only a bigoted blockhead who did not know better could vote to leave. Nowhere was this mentality shown more strongly than over the subject of immigration. The Remainers’ favoured tactics were simply to ignore the issue or, if forced to address it, to chant the mantras such as “Immigrants have brought so much to our country” or “Immigrants do the jobs which Britons won’t do” or “The shortage of housing, school places and GPs etc is not down to immigration but the failure of government to provide the money to build more houses, schools and GPs etc”. As immigration was the issue which troubled voters most and especially troubled the white working class, this was madness on the part of the Remain campaign. Clearly nothing has been learnt by the politically correct from Gordon Brown’s abuse of a working class English pensioner Gillian Duffy during the 2010 General Election when she complained about the effects of mass immigration and Brown was caught describing her as a bigot.
But it was not only the Remainers who wanted to ignore or explain away the problems mass immigration brings. Many on the Leave side were just as squeamish when it came to immigration. If it had not been for Nigel Farage having the courage to keep banging the immigration drum in all probability the referendum would have been lost. The question of regaining sovereignty was a very strong and positive message, but on its own it is doubtful if it would have gained sufficient traction to lead to a win. What made it really potent was when it was allied to controlling our own borders and stemming immigration. The least politically sophisticated person could readily understand the message.
Gratifying as the referendum result is, it was only the first battle in the war to recover Britain’s sovereignty. The war is yet to be won. As things stand we are still subject to EU law until either we leave without an agreement with the EU or fight our way through the provisions of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, something which would almost certainly take two years from its activation and which could be extended indefinitely in principle with the agreement of the European Parliament. It is even conceivable that new members could be enrolled before Britain’s departure who would then have a say in what the terms for Britain would be. That is just one of the drawbacks to using Article 50. There are others which mean that Article 50 is a poisoned chalice and should be avoided. Let me quote it in full as it is short:
1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.
4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, 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.
A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.
Before I get to the practical difficulties of using Article 50 let me stamp on an idea floating within the disgruntled Europhile camp that Britain could remain in the EU if no agreement was reached on the terms of leaving. This is not so. Paragraph 3 of the Article runs” The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.” If there is no agreement and no extension of the negotiating time, Britain would simply leave and EU laws would cease to have effect.
The drawbacks to using Article 50 are extensive. To begin with it allows the EU to set the agenda and the pace of the negotiations. Until an agreement is reached or the leaving state simply leaves after two years of fruitless negotiation, Britain would remain subject to EU law. This would mean, amongst other things, that Britain would have to continue to pay the £8 billion odd to the EU that they keep and the £6 bn odd which the EU takes from us and then returns it to Britain with instructions on how it is to be spent, Britain could not negotiate any treaties with countries outside of the EU and British businesses would have to continue to implement EU imposed standards in areas such as the workplace for example, the hours worked. It would logically also mean that Britain was subject to any new EU laws passed during the negotiating period, for example, the EU might push through a transaction tax which would be utterly against Britain’s wishes. Most importantly Britain would have to continue accept migrants from the rest of the EU and probably other territories which have free movement with the EU such as Norway or Switzerland . Moreover, the idea that Britain would be leaving the EU after two years could provoke a massive upsurge in EU migration to these shores.
The other problem is the nature of Britain’s MPs. Most are Europhiles, as are a majority of the House of Lords. In principle the result of the referendum could be ignored – it is merely advisory not legally binding – by the Europhile majority in Parliament. That should be politically impossible but there would be ample opportunity for the Europhiles to subvert the wishes of the British public more stealthily by extending the length of time for negotiation or by making agreements with the EU which would stitch Britain back into the EU, for example, making immigration from the EU very easy.
If an agreement which firmly attaches Britain to the EU once again is concluded one of two things could happen: either Parliament could accept it on a vote or a further referendum be held on the terms of the agreement with all the bullying associated with the EU when the public of a member makes the “wrong” choice the first time around. The first would be overtly undemocratic and the second covertly undemocratic.
An alternative to an agreement between British politicians and EU politicians would be for a major party to campaign at a general election for Britain to withdraw from the leaving process and by doing so to remain in the EU. Whether such a cancellation of Britain’s withdrawal would be legal is debatable, especially if Article 50 is activated because there is no procedure in the Article for cancelling the article’s activation. However, legal or not, the rest of the EU might be willing to accept the cancellation because this is really about politics not law.
None of this is fanciful because there have already been suggestions from MPs, the most prominent being David Lammy of Labour , an ex-cabinet minister, who has suggested that the Commons refuse to accept the result of the referendum and Tim Farron, the leader of the LibDems has committed his party to standing on a platform to get Britain back into the EU. There is also a petition on the government web site which is already in the millions demanding that the referendum result be deemed invalid (there is some doubt over the authenticity of large numbers of the signatures).
Part Two of “After the referendum – the battle has been won, but not the war” will be published tomorrow, looking at what should happen now that we have voted for Brexit.