Why the EU must not give the UK a good deal

Gerard Delanty

The British government has misled the British population and the rest of the EU concerning the referendum of the 23rd June 2016. The Labour Party has colluded with the government in a monumental act of deception.

The first and most important consideration is that there is absolutely nothing binding in the outcome of the referendum. The referendum was a consultative one; it was not a legislative one. Such referendums are by definition not binding and are clearly define in law. MPs and governmental officials were briefed on this and fully aware of the non-binding nature of the referendum. Yet, they disguised the fact that it was a non-binding referendum and constructed a wall of silence on this legal fact.

Secondly, the margin of 3.8% in favour of Leave is by any standards a small margin for such major change. The 52% Leave who voted Leave are a mere 37% of the electorate. 63% of the electorate did NOT vote to leave the EU. There is no popular mandate for Brexit. Contrary to the statement constantly repeated by politicians, there is nothing decisive about the outcome. It is not the ‘will of the people’ but the will of a small segment of the population. On any reasonable account, 48/52 vote represents an indecisive outcome:  17.4 m voted Leave; 16.1m voted Leave. No politician has explained why this might be decisive. The government in any case did not set a threshold nor did they state that the outcome would be settled by a simple majority. The referendum is nothing more than an opinion poll taken on a specific day and only commands the support of 17.4 m, who are a minority of the UK electorate and a yet smaller minority of the UK population.

Third, the referendum is a betrayal of democracy for many reasons, but notably for not including UK nationals living in other EU countries and 16/17 year olds who would normally be entitled to vote. In view of the above this needs to be considered.

Four, the electorate was asked to vote whether the UK should leave the EU. Nothing was specified about the form that this might take. There is nothing to indicate that the majority of people approve of the so-called hard Brexit course. British business, financial institutions, the civil services and universities are opposed. The government has little support for leaving the EU; yet it is driving ahead and seeking to transfer more powers from parliament to the government.

The government has disguised the fact that the outcome was not binding.  Prior to the 23rd June it did so because it believed it would win and needed to take on board the radical right wing populist wing of the Conservative Party as well as UKIP.  On losing the vote, the new hardline right wing government led by the authoritarian Theresa May has taken advantage of the opportunity created by the referendum to drive through what is in effect a new neo-liberal policy of open markets/de-regulation that does not have wide public support. The entire Conservative Party and much of the deeply divided Labour Party has gone along with an insane drive to reverse several decades of legislation for no clear gains.

The government has sought to prevent parliament from making a decision on whether the outcome should be implemented and has sought to implement its own interpretation of what leaving the EU entails. The Supreme Court challenged this course and handed down a judgement that required parliamentary approval for UK to leave the EU  (on the grounds that the EU legislation has changed national legislation by introducing new rights and therefore only parliament can approve of the abrogation of such rights). It argued that the referendum is not itself binding, but requires parliamentary approval. This approval has not yet been given. The notification to the EU delivered by the PM on 29th March 2016 rests only on a bill of notification. The decision that was to be notified has not yet been made. The House of Commons did not explicitly vote that the UK will leave the EU. Aside from lacking public support, the delivery of the notification rests on very questionable constitutional grounds.

The road ahead is detrimental for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and Scotland. UK nationals living in other EU countries and EU nationals living in the UK.

The EU is not obliged to offer the UK a fair deal. It ought to offer the worst possible deal. It can only be hoped that the British parliament will come to its senses over the next two years and vote against a future deal, since such a deal will be by definition worse than the present situation. Brexit can be stopped.

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About g.delanty@sussex.ac.uk

Professor of Sociology and Social & Political Thought, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
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