Every time ex-British Prime Minister David Cameron is sniffed out by journalists in the public, he is bombarded with the same simple question: “Do you regret calling the referendum?” His response: He doesn’t. He does however, regret the “difficulties and problems we’ve been having trying to implement the result”. Fair enough in my opinion David.
How could he regret the referendum? Imagine the world’s oldest democracy refusing to let its people debate and vote on its membership in the European Union – an institution that defines its trading relationship with the global community via a customs union. It would have been a failure of democratic ideals to refuse the vote, especially when you consider that the end result was to leave. As Brexiteers cheered in the streets and bowed to their Holy Leaders Johnson and Farage, the first cracks in their idealised seamless transition began to show. As Cameron resigned, it was not Boris Johnson who took the mantle, channelling Churchill and leading Britain away from the dastardly Europeans and back towards the good old days of Sunday lunches and Spitfire airplanes. Instead, Boris chose not to run, and the role of British Prime Minister sort of just fell into Theresa May’s hands. The woman that didn’t really want to leave in the first place has now spent the last two years furiously negotiating in Europe, only to come home to a Parliament so divided and quite frankly useless that it is not uncommon to see caricatures of animals representing MPs.
The Divided Kingdom has had its foundations fractured, and now, over two years since that fateful day in May, its people will be found marching on the streets either demanding that the UK uphold the promises made during the referendum and leave the EU, or that another vote is issued, a ‘People’s Vote’ for the people to have another say now that the political realities of Brexit have settled in, and the government’s inability to negotiate amongst themselves has become clear. A People’s Vote is often considered a pro-remain stance, as it is likely that the result would be to revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU. In that instance however, British democracy would be threatened, and ‘The Great Betrayal’ may fracture the nation so deeply that it may never be rebuilt. In 2016 people were questioning the European Union, do we want them to be questioning democracy in 2019?
Of course, there are also the Brits who run and hide when they even hear the word Brexit. The ones that have long ago given up caring about what happens either way. After two years of headlines such as “Brexit Chaos”, or “Parliamentary Crisis” plastered on the front page of every major newspaper, coupled with the fact that their day-to-day lives haven’t actually changed at all, it is more common to find a British individual that wouldn’t even know that Britain had asked for an extension than a staunch Remainer/Leaver.
Tragically for our politically indifferent friends, they will have to continue to turn to page two in order to learn about something that doesn’t concern the entire political and economic future of their country, as Britain has been granted an extension until Halloween. A holiday that could prove to be the spookiest yet if May and her band of cronies can’t agree on something in the space of six months. Here is a bit of a terrifying reality for you, consider it an appetiser: No-one, not Theresa May, not Donald Tusk, not Boris Johnson and especially not me, has any idea what on earth is going to happen between now and October. If anyone confidently tells you that they do, you can confidently tell them to shut up. What I can tell you however, is what the political pundits are saying are the likely options. Each one of them has an upside and a downside and will involve a major headache for the British people and a lack of sleep for the Prime Minister. Let’s boogie.
Option One. The Deal Goes Through.
May has already had her deal rejected three times in Parliament, the first of which was by the largest margin in history. Every day she is constantly trying to hustle enough people to change their minds and commit to the plan, allowing the UK to leave the EU albeit with a number of economic ties to the institution imposed. As Britain got closer and closer to the deadline date in March, she continued to push the deal with the unspoken threat of a no-deal Brexit being the only alternative. Now that the UK has another six months to agree on something, May can continue to try and get her party in to line, or, as we have seen recently, try to get Labour on her side. If Corbyn and his Labour members, who after the election in 2017 hold quite a large margin in Parliament, agree on May’s deal, it will have enough numbers to go through. It is also worth noting that May does not have enough time to negotiate a new deal with the EU, and that to this day, no-one has a clean solution to the ‘Ireland problem’. Although Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland is independent, there has been no need to impose a border between the nations after the Good Friday agreement as they are both part of the greater EU customs union. Post-Brexit however, that will change, and in order to avoid a border between the countries, Northern Ireland will have to have a separate trade union to the rest of the UK – completely undermining Britain’s rule. It’s a messy situation, but I suppose that’s what you get for staging a referendum in order to undermine your old university political rival and make claim for the Prime Minister’s seat only for it all to go tits up. Boris you bastard.
Option Two. The People Vote Again.
Round two baby. How could this possibly go wrong? The People’s Vote would require a different question than the last time. Instead of asking whether you think the UK should leave or remain in the EU, it is more likely to have a few more options, such as would you prefer a) The Prime Minister’s proposed deal in leaving the EU b) to remain in the EU, or c) a no-deal Brexit? The likely result in this situation would be to remain, given what the public have gone through already, but after 2016 I’ve learnt not to confidently predict political results. If, we assume however that they do vote to remain, that opens up a whole new can of worms. Firstly, it would be incredibly embarrassing for the country. Britain is very proud of its history and heritage. It has been to war in Europe twice in the 20th Century and still clings to the golden generation of veterans fighting the Nazis in World War 2. As ridiculous as it sounds, the thought of heading back to Europe and asking for the whole thing to be forgotten about is totally against the British psyche. This is especially evident in the older generations who cling on to British history as if it’s about to vanish. I’m sure you’re aware of the voting demographics and how the elderly tended to vote during the referendum. I’m telling you that this, alongside immigration concerns, is probably why. As my (old-ish) British uncle said to me at breakfast in London the other day, “in my head I know that leaving the EU is probably not the best move, but in my heart, well god wouldn’t it be great to just get one over those bloody Germans!” Secondly, as I have explained already, it completely undermines British democracy. People’s Vote supporters will argue that the previous referendum has lost its mandate due to the two years that have passed, the lies and fear tactics used by the Leave campaign in 2016, and most importantly, that although the public voted to leave, it didn’t vote for the complete political meltdown occurring in Westminster. Theresa May in turn, explains that a referendum is a referendum, to go back on it would be to undermine any future referendums and democracy in general. Yes, people were uninformed, and a lot of people didn’t vote, but the reality is a democracy only works with a participatory electorate. Britain had months and months to learn about the EU before the referendum, and the campaign was a major public spectacle. The fact that almost 30% of the electorate did not choose to vote, and that those who did vote often didn’t fully comprehend what it is they were voting for is quite frankly appalling.
Option Three. No-deal.
This is extremely unlikely to happen. If the UK can’t figure out any deal with the EU and choose not to revoke Article 50, then it will leave the EU on WTO’s terms. This isn’t as bad as some of the media is implying, the country will not starve, and planes won’t drop out of the sky mid-flight, but it is still not good at all. It means that the UK will have lost their major trading ally (the EU) overnight. Many jobs will be lost, and the economy will suffer. However, Parliament have voted to rule out the option of a no-deal scenario, and the EU will lose Britain as well, which is not in their interests.
So, to bring it back to my good pal David Cameron. I’m with you mate, the referendum did need to be called, but my goodness this is ridiculous. Let us all hope that no matter what happens, Britain will find its way out of its mess and can unite once again.
Words by Wilson Bell