Saturday 25 June 2016 – Backlashes, anger and developments following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union

CALLS FOR A SECOND REFERENDUM

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It has been less than 36 hours since the result of the EU Referendum was announced and the country and the world reeled n the news that Britain had voted to withdraw from the European Union. Yet in that time more than a million people have signed an official petition, set up by William Oliver Healey and approved by the Petitions Committee, that argues that the narrowness of the victory for the Leave campaign (51.9% to 48.1%) brings into question the legitimacy of accepting the result. The petition, which will now have to be discussed or debated by the House of Commons as it has topped 100,000 signatures, states: “We the undersigned call upon HM Government to implement a rule that if the Remain or Leave vote is less than 60%, based on a turnout less than 75%, there should be another referendum.” I thought that when the referendum was announced by David Cameron back in 2013 some sort of minimum requirements should be attached to the referendum. The Leave campaign won by nearly 4% and nearly 1,3 million votes, but even if they had won by only a few thousand votes the first-past-the-post system in the country would have given them victory.  The turnout at the referendum was 72.2% with less than 33.5 million of the 46+ million electorate voting. I believe that it would be unlikely that a 75% turnout could be achieved across the whole country. Scotland might have surpassed that and they voted by 62% to 38% to remain. The turnout in Scotland in 2014’s independence referendum was extraordinary high at over 84% but across the UK it has been a long time since a turnout of 75% has been achieved and even 72.2% was the highest in any UK national election since 1992.

 

Although the referendum result is officially non-binding on the Government it is not going to be ignored. When David Cameron has been replaced in October – and possibly before – Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will be invoked and the withdrawal negotiations will begin. Once Article 50 has been invoked there is no turning back and our withdrawal is inevitable unless the remaining 27 members of the EU suddenly say we can stay. This, of course, is not going to happen. Such a situation would not only cause severe protests in the UK it would increase the economic and political uncertainty in Europe and the world that our decision to Leave has already generated.

 

David Cameron has previously said there could be no second referendum, saying that Britain did referendums not neverendums. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said we must accept the decision and move on: “The referendum has taken place, a decision has been made. I think we have got to accept that decision and work out our relationship with Europe in the future.” However, UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage – who was a strong supporter of the Leave campaign – had said last month that if there was a narrow  victory for Remain there would be a unstoppable demand for a rerun of the referendum. I guess now that he’s on the winning side he isn’t going to be highlighting his concerns of the legitimacy of a close result.

 

It is too late to turn back on this referendum, but the craziness of the UK’s first-past-the-post situation needs to be addressed – as many people in the UK have been saying for years. As a Labour supporter I also recognise that a post-Brexit UK may not include Scotland – who may choose to go their own way (see below). If this happens, then the chances of Labour securing a majority at Westminster is greatly diminished. Not that I’m a supporter of UKIP in any way, but there is the madness they highlighted after the 2015 General Election of them getting 15% of the popular vote but ending up with only 1 of some 600 Westminster seats.  Smaller parties such as UKIP and the Greens would benefit greatly from some form of proportional representation. Whether we support their policies or not, people are voting for them and are not being represented in Parliament under the current first-past-the-post electoral system.

 

CITIES, REGIONS AND COUNTRIES TALK OF BREAKING AWAY FROM THE UK FOLLOWING THE LEAVE VOTE

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I wrote about the Scottish independence referendum in my blog (read) and I strongly supported Scotland remaining in the UK at the time. If Scotland leaves the UK it will do tremendous harm to the UK but it now seems inevitable that there will be a second referendum north of the border and in light of the Leave vote the public in Scotland will have a heightened sense of betrayal and alienatIon from the rest of the UK and in particular from Westminster politics that was the driving force behind the EU referendum. That feeling in Scotland will in likelihood result in a vote for independence.  Should that happen Scotland will have negotiate with London to leave the UK and with  Brussels to remain part of the EU or to rejoin it as an independent nation if the UK has withdrawn by then. The First Minister has met with her Cabinet in Edinburgh and said: 

“Most of our discussions this morning centred on what we can do in the here and now and in the negotiations that lie ahead to protect Scotland’s relationship with the European Union and our place in the single market. Cabinet agreed that we will seek to enter into immediate discussions with the EU institutions and other EU member states to explore all possible options to protect Scotland’s place in the EU.” 

Sturgeon has also said that she won’t call a referendum on independence unless she is certain she can win it. This was a lesson David Cameron didn’t take to heart in 2013 when he announced the EU referendum to placate his own Tory party Eurosceptics – the first rule of referendums, don’t call one unless you know you can win.

 

The Scottish government is now trying to distance themselves from the chaos in Westminster, emphasising that their Government is stable, strong and effective. Nicola Sturgeon wants to stress to citizens and businesses in Europe that Scotland is still with them and will continue to be an “attractive and stable place to do business.” She added:

“One particular group we are anxious to reassure is the community of EU citizens living here in Scotland. People from other EU countries who have done us the honour of choosing to make Scotland their home are welcome here. I want to make sure that is a message we get across strongly in the weeks and months ahead.”

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Scotland, along with Northern Ireland and London were the only regions in the UK to vote in favour of Remain.  London, which has for  many years been at the centre of European and world financial markets, is deeply concerned the effect of EU withdrawal will have on the capital and in particular on the City. Today, France’s central bank warned that London could lose its prized access to EU markets following withdrawal, especially if it doesn’t remain as part of the single market. Francois Villeroy de Galhau said that London banks  would lose their “financial passport” that allows them to trade freely in the EU. The threat that banks will move out of London to Frankfurt, Dublin and elsewhere in the remaining European Union is deeply worrying to the future of London’s financial markets. Uncertainty over what lies ahead may lead to banks leaving regardless and if we are unable to negotiate remaining in the single market or maintaining the so-called passporting system in the financial markets across the EU then an exodus of banks will almost certainly happen. The chaos facing the City was summed up by  Mr Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister, when he  said:

“A few years ago, London took out adverts in the Asian edition of the Financial Times saying it was the place to come if you wanted to do business in the EU. Now they can’t place that advert, and the Asians will go to Amsterdam or Frankfurt instead.” (article)

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As thousands are gathering in London for the annual London Pride, over 100,000 Londoners have signed a petition calling on London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan to declare London independent from the UK and, like Scotland, to apply to join the EU. London voted by 59.9% to 41.1% to remain in the EU and now feels betrayed and concerned over the future outside the EU. In some Boroughs the remain vote surpassed 70%. The petition, set up by James  O’Malley, recognises that London is an international city and wanted to remain at the heart of the EU. Talking of the petition, O’Malley said:

“Let’s face it – the rest of the country disagrees. So rather than passive aggressively vote against each other at every election, let’s make the divorce official and move in with our friends on the continent.”

London was one of a few regions in England that voted in favour of remain. My home city of Liverpool, and neighbouring Wirral where I grew up,  were others. Concern in Liverpool over a post-Brexit UK and the effects it will have on the city and on the Government’s so-called Northern Powerhouse dominated the local news yesterday. This led to a tongue-in-cheek suggestion by an academic, Dr Michael Holmes, that Liverpool should leave the UK and become part of the Republic of Ireland. Dublin-born Dr Holmes (pictured below) said:

“Merseyside could apply to the Republic of Ireland for recognition and ask to become the 33rd county. Alternatively, we could arrange for a swap. For instance, we could exchange Merseyside for County Offaly. Doing so would also significantly improve the quality of Irish soccer.”

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Many people in Liverpool and elsewhere since yesterday’s vote have been seeking information on how to get an Irish passport so that they can continue to have access and benefits of EU membership once the UK withdraws. Liverpool has suffered disproportionately high from austerity – largely because Liverpool depends more than most on the public services and welfare benefits that the Government of David Cameron has been slashing in the last six years. There is naturally concern for the future and doubt that exiting the EU will make things any better – and probably will make things worse. Others have jokingly suggested we dig trenches west of Warrington and declare a Peoples Republic of Merseyside, or even join Scotland. As with most things, Liverpudlians are dealing with their fears and anxiety with humour but there is yet again a feeling that the city is  stuck in a minority, with our views not shared by most of the rest of England. (article)

 

There is also uncertainty in Northern Ireland over the future of the province post-Brexit and the affect it will have on the economy, the peace process and its relationship with the Republic of Ireland. Like Scotland and London, the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU and like their counterparts in Scotland and London are worried that they are being dragged out of the Union against their wishes. You can read more on the consequences for Northern Ireland in these two articles:

1. What will the leave vote mean for Northern Ireland? and

2. Enda Kenny and David Cameron speak about Northern Ireland after Brexit.

 

POSITIVE STATEMENTS ON POST-BREXIT TRADE DEALS

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The Express today is reporting on positive signs that Germany, Canada and the United States are making positive noises on the importance of post-Brexit trade deals with the UK. This is extremely encouraging in light of the Remain camps scaremongering in the run-up to the referendum vote. They argued that the rest of the world would not make it easy for us to trade. This was even backed-up by President Obama making a statement that Britain would be at the back of the queue and that the United States was interested in dealing with the European Union as a bloc. This was an attempt by Obama to encourage people in the UK to vote Remain. Yesterday the President was back-tracking and said that Britain would remain “indispensable partners” of the United States and that the so-called Special Relationship will continue into the future.  President Obama elaborated further:

“The people of the United Kingdom have spoken, and we respect their decision. The special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is enduring, and the United Kingdom’s membership in Nato remains a vital cornerstone of US foreign, security and economic policy. So too is our relationship with the European Union, which has done so much to promote stability, stimulate economic growth, and foster the spread of democratic values and ideals across the continent and beyond. The United Kingdom and the European Union will remain indispensable partners of the United States even as they begin negotiating their ongoing relationship to ensure continued stability, security and prosperity for Europe, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the world.”

Many, of course, knew that Obama’s posturing in recent weeks was to show support of David Cameron and to scare the British public into a Remain vote. The Leave camp pulled him on this and said that America and Europe needs trade with the UK as much as we need it with them – regardless of whether we are in the European Union or not.  One of the reasons that so many voted Leave is exactly because of the scaremongering by politicians here and elsewhere. There is also huge distrust of all politicians and the Leave vote can be seen as partly a revolt against them and the elite they represent. The Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau joined in the post-Brexit promise that trade will continue.

“The UK and the EU are important strategic partners for Canada with whom we enjoy deep historical ties and common values. We will continue to build relations with both parties as they forge a new relationship. Canada’s connections to our partners around the world are among its greatest assets, and these relationships contribute greatly to the prosperity of all Canadians.”

Angela Merkel in Germany has also said that negotiations with the UK need not be nasty and has today suggested that post-Brexit Britain should be an “associated partner country” – demonstrating the importance of securing amicable trade agreements between the EU and post-Brexit UK. Furthermore,the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has said that it “stands ready to work with the UK and the EU to assist them in any way we can.”

 

These are positive developments and are reassuring in light of Germany’s and other EU countries concerns that Brexit may encourage France, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland and Hungary to follow suit. Some suggested that because of this fear many EU countries would make it difficult for post-Brexit UK to come to trade agreements as part of the withdrawal negotiations. Making it easy, it was argued, would simply encourage nationalist movements around Europe.  Today’s statements, reported in the Express, are a sign that that fear may not be as strong as thought and that the EU recognises that Britain will continue to be a vital trading partner. (Express article)

 

OTHER NEWS IN THE BREXIT VOTE

 

  • The EU Commissioner Lord Hill is to resign saying “what is done cannot be undone” and that he felt he could not carry on his work as the commissioner in charge of financial services. He was in favour of remaining in the EU and will be succeeded by Latvian politician Vladis Dombrovskis, who is currently the European commissioner for the Euro

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  • Jeremy Corbyn is heckled at London Pride by people blaming him for not campaigning hard enough for remaining in the EU. (video)

 

  • Evidence on social media and elsewhere is suggesting that many people who voted for Brexit did so out of ignorance and many are already regretting it. Some are blaming the politicians for their own ignorance, saying that they weren’t told the facts. In light of the lies and misinformation that was the campaigns of both sides, this has some merit. Others are blaming polling organisations for inaccurate polls.

 

  • Jeremy Corbyn is resisting calls on him to resign and he says he will fight any leadership challenge. (article)

 

  • Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel warns the EU against being nasty towards the UK in its  withdrawal negotiations. (article)

 

  • Many people are suddenly waking up to the realities of Brexit and are asking questions which they should have been asking before the vote, such as: Will I need a new passport?, Will my European Health Insurance Card still work?, Will I need a visa to travel to the EU, Will my EU driving licence be valid?,  What will happen to Brits living in Europe?, Will I still be able to bring booze back? This highlights that many people were woefully ignorant when they voted in the referendum and the consequences got little thought when they made their decision to vote. This was reflected also yesterday when Google announced, amazingly, that there had been a surge in people asking the question “What is the EU?” (article)

 

  • People have been taking to social media to express their views on the vote. (article)

 

  • There is concern in the United States and Europe that Britain leaving the EU may diminish its role in Nato and, in particular, that a post-Brexit UK may not be so willing to go to the military aid of say Poland or another EU country. This is particular relevant in light of the aggressiveness of Russia in recent years and the threats they pose sitting on the EU’s eastern borders.

 

  • Boris Johnson remains the favourite to succeed David Cameron as Prime Minister. However, although popular in the country, Johnson is not especially popular in the Tory party. The Home Secretary, Theresa May (below) is being suggested as a “Stop Boris” candidate. Some of Boris’s colleagues don’t feel his has the gravitas and experience to be leader of the Party, let alone Prime Minister, while others believe he and Michael Gove would be the “dream ticket” and point out that both have the support of rank-and-file members. (article)

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