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The Conservative party is outsourcing sovereignty to 0.002% of the people

The Conservative party is outsourcing sovereignty. The 150,000 party members (0.002% of the UK population) will have the final say on who will be the prime minister will have to take one of the momentous decision in British History.

David Cameron had passed the responsibility to accept the result of the referendum and start the process of leaving the EU by notifying the European Council to his successor. It is a sovereign decision to be made by the prime minister: there is no provision for votes in he Houses of Parliament.

It is right that party members choose their leader. But choosing a prime minister who will take, what looks like being, an existential decision for the UK is another matter.

The front-runner to replace David Cameron has already announced what her decision would be. Teresa May said yesterday: “Brexit means Brexit.”

Prime ministers also have the right to declare war without the approval of parliament but this has been strongly challenged particularly since the Iraq war. In 2005 Clare Short (Labour) introduced a bill to requiring parliamentary consent to armed conflict and was supported by senior figures in all parties. It was talked out.

This issue will return next week with the publication of the Chilcot report.

Except in cases of urgency, it is now difficult to imagine a prime minister declaring war without first having a debate in parliament and vote, even it was not binding.

Yet there is no suggestion of a vote on triggering Article 50 to exit the EU. Labour has joined the Conservatives in saying the people have spoken and their will must be respected.

Well, 37 per cent of the population have voted in favour of leaving without knowing what leaving will mean. The capital city and two of the four countries of the union have voted to remain, a division which in normal circumstances would lead parliament to be very cautious about making a final decision.

At the very least, the new prime minister should seek confirmation of her or his role by calling a general election before making a decision on triggering article 50.

If that does not happen our democracy means very little.

 

If a golf club can re-run a ballot on women’s membership why should the government not announce a new EU poll

18th_Hole_at_Muirfield,_The_Open_2013_Muirfield golf club is to hold a second vote because the decision six weeks ago not to admit women members has “damaged” its reputation. If the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers can decide on a second vote, why can the UK government not follow their example on the infinitely more important issued of EU membership?

The Muirfield rules sensibly require a substantial majority to change from the status quo (unlike UK referenda rules) and the resolution to admit women narrowly missed it. Now the members are being asked to vote again.

According to the Scotsman newspaper:

The first Muirfield vote was influenced by a “no” campaign, which cited slow-play worries, lunch concerns and fears about making ladies “feel uncomfortable”.

Similarly, last week’s EU poll was influence by silly scares and downright lies. So I ask Parliament to give us a second vote or, better, do their job of representing the whole population and pass a resolution saying Article 50 should not be triggered.

 

Could this be the new UK flag?

Flag without Ireland

Talk of a break-up of the UK has focussed on Scottish independence. But could Northern Ireland be the first to leave?

Although Northern Ireland voted to remain the chances of the six counties with their unionist tradition has always looked unlikely to leave the UK. But might that change if there is no Brexit-lite deal, no access to the free-trade area and border posts along the border with the Republic of Ireland?

It would not present many of the problems Scotland would face have membership of the EU. Northern Ireland would not become independent but transfer its allegiance from London to Dublin. And so remain in the EU.

The Irish Republic already claims the six Counties, there is an apparently good relationship between the NI administration and Dublin, legal ties and citizenship rights as well as strong trade relationships.

Sinn Féin has called for a border poll but is probably putting down a marker rather than expecting anything to happen quickly. Nothing will change quickly but if Brexit negotiations do not go well the prospect of a united Ireland will grow.

Farage speech in Euro parliament makes Brexit-lite deal harder

Whether we like it or not Nigel Farage has joined Nicola Sturgeon in filling the vacuum that is Westminster politics after last week’s EU referendum.

His nasty, rude, ill-mannered rant in the European parliament yesterday looks like an astute move to ensure there are no concessions on offer in negotiations following the triggering Article 50.

Farage wants out to mean out — no Brexit-lite deals for access to the free trade area which would also mean freedom of movement. Yesterday he did his best to alienate his fellow MEPs who will have a final say on any deal on offer. Who would want a deal with a county where Farage has emerged as a significant leader?

But he probably did not mean to advance the chances of a break-up of the United Kingdom. The standing ovation for Scottish MEP Alyn Smith can only improve the climate for talks in Brussels today between the Nicola Sturgeon and the parliament president Martin Shulz.

Boris Johnson and the Poisoned Chalice

Slowly the shape of what will happen after the Brexit vote is emerging. There are unlikely to be any negotiations before Article 50 is triggered and the leaving talks can start only then.

The EU will make a take-it or leave-it offer on future arrangements which must be approved by all EU members. The words coming out of Europe suggest this will, at best, be along the lines of those given to Norway. They could hardly offer anything better so the UK could be faced with probably making a similar contribution to EU funds and joining the Shengen area.

The alternative would be operating outside the free market on WTO rules which include tariffs.

If those options continue to look likely there is one other course the new prime minister could take: an announcement that Article 50 would not be invoked. Some in Europe might not like that very much but it would preserve the status quo, albeit with less bargaining power than before.

It was noticeable how often David Cameron answering questions in the Commons this afternoon said: “That will be a matter for the next prime minister to decide.” You could almost hear him adding “thank God”.

Whoever becomes prime minister will be accepting a poisoned chalice. Is Boris Johnson up for that?

Is Merkel trying to give UK time to reconsider Brexit vote?

I may be reading more into the words coming out of Berlin this morning than are really there but they seem to hint that Angela Merkel want’s to give the UK a chance to reconsider Thursday’s Brexit vote.

This comment is from Peter Altmaier, Mrs Merkel’s chief of staff (Guardian):

Should we just be saying: we’re sad that the referendum has ended this way, but now you have to go? I am not sure that would be the right step. Because at this referendum something has happened that I never imagined: on the hand, the sad result is that there were 52% of said they wanted to leave.

But on the other hand –and that’s something that I as a European find deeply moving – even in this country that we often thought of as deeply eurosceptic and not truly European, there has been an incredible turning towards Europe by millions of people … As a European, I feel a responsibility towards those people.

This contrasts with the draft resolution to be put to the European Parliament which demands immediate triggering of Article 50.

Personally I am not turning towards Europe because I have always faced that way. I just hope everyone in the UK we will have time to reflect on the implications of the referendum result. For some reason many went into the polling stations without realising they were partaking in one of the most momentous decisions in British history.

An appealing plan to defeat Brexit from Lord Heseltine

It is good to see Michael Heseltine still has the spirit to swing the Mace even if today it is a virtual one. His idea is appealing: Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage must lead the Brexit negotiations because if others did this the trio would campaign against any outcome as being unsatisfactory.

So they would have to negotiate and present the outcome to the Commons which would inevitably reject it as a big majority of MPs are pro-Remain. Then there would have to be a general election or a second referendum.

Lord Heseltine’s argument is appealing (BBC)  but we could not reach that stage without triggering Article 50. I would prefer it if Article 50 was never invoked.

And what would be the choices if we were outside the EU. It could be exclusion from the European free trade area or accepting something like the arrangement Norway has including membership of Shengen Area and rather larger payments to the EU.

What will happen in the next few months is impossible to predict but I sense that the mood in the country has changed quite a lot since Friday. Politicians are constantly telling us they “respect” the referendum vote. They would not need to say that if the they were bound by the vote. It will take time, but they might just come to exercise the sovereignty of parliament they insisted upon when drawing up the referendum laws.

Will Article 50 ever be triggered?

It is understandable that David Cameron felt he had to announce he would resign after his gamble of appeasing the Left of the Conservative party by calling a referendum had failed. He could not continue to govern with any credibility.

Yet he has also left a country, more divided than at any time since the English Civil War, with a rudderless government without authority for three crucial months in the history of the United Kingdom. That is hard to forgive.

And in making his announcement he reneged on his intention to immediately trigger Article 50 which creates a vacuum in which anything could happen. While in doing this he was accepting what Brexit campaigners wanted, the new prime minister could find that the remainder of the EU has already reached a consensus on the terms of a settlement it is prepared to offer the UK.

It also allows more time for remain campaigners to further question the validity of the referendum vote. As I write 3,167,000 people have signed the petition to parliament calling for a new referendum with more stringent rules. Those signatures come predominantly from England.

There are grounds for the argument that the referendum was neither democratic nor valid because voters were misled by lies and guesses during the campaign. Three months before the possibility of triggering Article 50 is time for these concerns to grow, especially if more businesses shift jobs to Europe and investment in industry and commerce stalls.

The Scottish government is confident that Brexit is an area which requires the Edinburgh parliament to give consent to Westminster legislation. Nicola Sturgeon made this clear talking to Robert Peston on ITV this morning: it would be likely to lead to a constitutional clash.

Another factor will be the Conservatives finding a new leader who can command the confidence of the House of Commons. This may be difficult and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, also on the Peston show, ruled himself out of the race but had a person spec for a new prime minister: it amounted to Brexit-lite. Others in his party have very different ideas. It could be difficult to form a new government.

What will happen is impossible to predict: there are too many variables. But one possibility, opened up by Cameron’s decision not to invoke Article 50 immediately, is that it will never be invoked.

Note: Pure coincidence but this post was published half-an-hour before the Guardian article with an identical headline. John Henley raises the same question but with very different text: well worth reading.

 

 

The media as well as politicians need to reflect before the referendum campaign resumes

Today is a time for reflection by everyone in the UK but particularly those involved in the referendum campaign. The media here today is quiet, rightly not rushing to conclusions, but in mainland Europe  newspapers have been less reticent in linking the murder of Jo Cox to the referendum campaign.

Whatever the outcome of police investigations there is the perception of a link and that for the moment is what matters. As Alex Massie put in the Spectator blog yesterday:

When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged.

The media as well as the politicians need to reflect. Have editorial decisions to concentrate on the nasty parts of the campaign, the playground shouts of “liar” and the racist undercurrents, contributed to polarisation?

News value is an assessment of what will interest the readers modified by the concept of “public interest”. The question is whether the interests of the readers were subjugated to the interests of journalists living and working in the Westminster bubble?

My impression is that the coverage has inhibited public debate. Where I live in rural Suffolk I have heard no-one talking about the referendum. Is as though everyone is avoiding the subject to avoid being drawn into the nasty debate and falling out with neighbours. There are some “leave” and “remain posters in the countryside but in the village itself few are prepared to declare their allegiance so publicly. There has been no real grassroots debate.

The coverage by political journalists has been so much more like a report of a playground squabble that I have found myself turning first to the financial pages for reasoned information.

Jeremy Corbyn’s attempts to get away from the fighting mentality and have a more reasoned and politer political debate have been scorned by political journalists who would rather see blood on the floor. It is not just a tactic of the Labour leader: I sense there are many on both sides of the house, probably the majority, who would be much happier without tribal battles.

The media cannot get away from the fact that they have sustained the most unpleasant aspects of the referendum by providing the publicity which has sustained the nastiness.

 

 

 

Slowly realisation that next week’s referendum is non-binding is growing

The aftermath of next Thursday’s vote could be worse, far worse, than the seemingly interminable campaign of lies, half-truths and unsubstantiated “facts” that we have endured during the campaign.

Slowly the realisation that the result of the EU referendum is non-binding, because to make it binding would infringe the sovereignty of the Westminster parliament, is growing. The Guardian reported this exchange at Prime Minister’s Questions today:

Nigel Adams, a [Brexit supporting] Conservative, says there has been “hysterical scaremongering” during the EU referendum. Will Cameron assure people he will follow the results on the referendum.
Yes, says Cameron. He says out means out of the single market too. He says he would say to anyone still in doubt, to anyone uncertain, don’t risk it.

Cameron appears to be saying he will abide by the result of the referendum but it is not entirely clear what he means.

If there is a vote for Brexit when would he seek to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which provides the only legal route to leaving the EU? And if he chose to put the required resolution to the Commons quickly would be able to get the necessary majority.

There are so many scenarios it is fruitless to even think too closely about them. We can be certain this horror story will go on unless there is a decisive victory for Remain.

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