I woke early (5:30am) on Thursday 23rd June 2016 in Bangalore, India. 5000 miles away in the UK it was 1am. Polling stations would not open for several hours. Today was the day the UK was going to take a historic vote as to whether to ‘Remain’ within the European Union or ‘Leave’ it. I was nowhere near home and I was worried. So was my German friend who had WhatsApp me in the night with a message “I hope you vote Remain”. Like him, we have only viewed the campaign through the eyes of the foreign media, all of whom are bewildered as to why the UK would want to leave the EU. We have also seen snippets of the campaign through the eyes of BBC World News, more so in the last week in the run up to the vote. It has been interesting watching the different approach the BBC has taken. They have definitely given a lot more airtime to the ‘Leave’ campaign than any other news outlet in an attempt to be balanced in their approach.
When BBC Breaking News sent an alert to my phone that the Polling Stations had opened our 9 year old daughter burst into tears. “I don’t want the UK to leave the EU” she sobbed, “and I don’t want to have to leave the UK to be in the EU”. It shocked me that she had such a strength of feeling, had been paying attention to what was happening, understood the significance and had an opinion on it. She also bemoaned the fact that she didn’t have a vote as a child yet other adults were deciding on her future. The frustration of her position was upsetting her.
What was it all about?
A referendum was held on Thursday 23 June to decide whether Britain should leave or remain in the European Union.The European Union – known as the EU – is an economic and political group of 28 European countries. It started after World War Two for economic cooperation – as countries which trade together are less likely to go to war with each other. It has grown to become a single market allowing free movement of people and goods. It has its own currency, the Euro, which is used by 19 of the member countries but not the UK which has retained the pound. The EU has its own parliament and sets rules in a wide range of areas including on the environment, transport, consumer rights etc.
David Cameron, the British Prime Minister(‘PM’), took the decision to hold a referendum following pressure from his own party, The Conservatives, who are divided on whether Britain should remain members of the EU. The rising support for the far right UK Independence Party (‘UKIP’) also put pressure on the PM to hold a referendum as far right Conservatives were starting to defect to UKIP. It was a political decision by the PM to ensure he could maintain control of his own party in Government. It was not a will or request of the general electorate and population. This Referendum was thrust upon them and forced many to make a decision about something they know, or knew, little about. It has divided the Nation and further divided the Conservative Party. It has been disastrous for politics as the arguments became poisonous and nasty.
Voting and the result
The registered electorate were able to vote at designated polling stations across the UK from 7am until 10pm on Thursday 23rd June 2016. Counting started when the polls closed. Ballot boxes were taken to 382 local centres around the UK (representing 380 local government areas in England, Scotland and Wales, plus one each for Northern Ireland and Gibraltar) and the results collated at 11 regional centres in the UK and Gibraltar. The regional centres declared the total vote for each side. The chief counting officer announced the overall result at Manchester Town Hall (in the north of England). It was clear from quite early on that the Vote Leave campaign had won. As more votes came in, their lead strengthened.
Leave 17,410,742 52%
Remain 16,141,241 48%
Rejected ballots 26,033
England and Wales voted to Leave the EU. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain within the EU.
It was in shock. I was in mourning. It is so very sad that we have chosen to leave the EU. The ramifications are enormous and I don’t think clearly understood at all.
What now for the Prime Minister and the Conservative Government?
The Government is going to find it much harder to get any laws passed and doing the business of government as the divisions in the Tory party are huge. Now a lot of the party have not got what they wanted it is going to be frosty for quite some time. They only have a majority of only 12 so any contentious legislation is going to be hard to get through a vote in the House of Commons and get passed.
The prime Minister has resigned. There will be a leadership contest within the Tory party and a new leader elected within 3 months David Cameron’s leadership has been lacking during the campaign and the whole Referendum was his decision. It has divided his own party as well as the Nation. The country will get a new Prime Minister and one they didn’t vote for. The Conservatives notoriously did this with Margaret Thatcher replacing her with John Major in 1990, denying the electorate the choice. (So much for for being the oldest Democracy in the world!)
It is also likely that there will be another General Election before the end of the fixed term parliament. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but the First Past The Post system that Britain uses in General Election delivers unrepresentative results. That may cause even more unrest. The voting system needs to change so that all votes count and all voices are heard. Proportional Representation is needed now more than ever before. People need to be represented and their voices heard.
Could MPs block an EU exit?
MPs could block an EU exit as the decision is not legally binding as there is no mechanism for it to be so. It will be politically disasterous though for MPs to go against the will of the people. Parliament will have to pass laws that will enable Britain to exit the EU including repealing the European Communities Act 1972.
The withdrawal agreement would also have to be ratified by Parliament – the House of Lords and/or the Commons could vote against ratification. If the Commons resolves against ratification, the treaty can still be ratified if the Government lays a statement explaining why the treaty should nonetheless be ratified and the House of Commons does not resolve against ratification a second time within 21 days (this process can be repeated ad infinitum).
In practice, Conservative MPs who voted to remain in the EU would be whipped to vote with the government. Any who defied the whip would have to face the wrath of voters at the next general election.
One scenario that could see the referendum result overturned, is if MPs forced a general election and a party campaigned on a promise to keep Britain in the EU, got elected and then claimed that the election mandate topped the referendum one. Two thirds of MPs would have to vote for a general election to be held before the next scheduled one in 2020.
Scotland and an Independence Referendum
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, has made a statement that a “material and significant change” has taken place . This triggers a promise to hold an Independence Referendum as the Scots seek to remain within the EU and not be dragged out along with England. There is a long road ahead with Scotland as they negotiate their terms with the EU and prepare for yet another referendum.
There are significant issues for Northern Ireland who also voted to remain within the Eu. Sinn Fein will likely call for a united Ireland to keep Northern Ireland within the EU. In any event Northern Ireland will have the only land border between the UK and the EU which will need to be defended. In a country with a peace agreement the added pressure is unwelcome.
The pace of change and events throughout ‘Black’ Friday 24th June have been breathtaking. There have been so many events which on their own would be huge news stories but they pale into insignificance compared to the historic decision for the UK to leave the EU. We have been members for 43 years. The impact is global as well as for the rest of the EU. The world is in shock and will have to recover. What the future looks like is anyone’s guess.
One thing is certain, the economic impact will be fast and hard. Emotion rather than economics drove this decision though so one has to assume that the leave voters think the economic consequences are worth it. I genuinely don’t understand it. I don’t recognise my own country anymore. I want to be part of the EU and not out on our own. I am sure the 16 million other people who voted remain feel the same way too. That has huge consequences for the British people – a significant proportion of people do not want to leave – how are politicians going to placate and reassure people?
Who knows? It’s anyone’s guess. It’s a brave new world out there and we’ll have to rise to the challenge. We are British after all – it’s what we’re good at.