An interesting but rather nonsensical question was posed by Sky News on Tuesday. If the Brexit referendum vote was ignored would there be civil war?
I say nonsensical because we are now rather too far advanced for anyone to accuse the UK government of “ignoring it”.
I have said on numerous occasions in this blog that Brexit for the sake of Brexit will not be in the British national interest.
It would be courageous but also principled of the Prime Minister Theresa May if she was to announce that with sterling instability and a desire by Europe to rush through the terms of trade within two years – which experts agree is way too short – she was delaying action. The premier would be (eventually) praised for her spoilsport stance.
She would not even need to say she is ignoring the will of the people. Well, the 52% who voted for Leave.
Rather she could declare that the decision is being put on hold.
It is remarkable how a government was able to stall the expansion of London Heathrow Airport on several turns in the past 20 years yet when it comes to something as profound deep and wide as the European Union, we seem to be hell-bent on rushing it through.
Irish premier Enda Kenny said last December the trade talks could take five years, and the UK Ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, who quit today, reckons it could take a decade.
While no one really knows how long it will take, for my money the EU will re-write the rules when we hit 18 months of talks. The EU has a talent for re-writing its principles, as it did throughout the euro zone’s debt crisis of 2009 to the present. Rather suggests the EU is not really principled or committed itself!
If anything has gone “too far” or beyond the option to reverse, it is May’s declaration on Article 50. She boxed herself into a corner at the Conservative Party conference in October when she spelled out that Article 50 would be triggered by end March 2017.
That is not to say that, with this month’s Supreme Court ruling and the benefit of four months of economic data, which includes falling business confidence, it would be too late to have second thoughts.
If we were to ignore the referendum (as the constitution allows and precisely why former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was no fan of them) people who voted to Leave would be peeved but unlikely to resort to armed struggle. It’s 330 years since the Glorious Revolution and 360 years since the English Civil War.
But this is more about managing expectations. The Prime Minister should never flinch from doing the right thing for Britain. She cannot and should not put her own leadership as well as parliamentary sovereignty at peril by slaving to a referendum result.
In or Out is not enough. The British electorate never voted on the kind of Brexit that might follow. And a fair chunk of those voting thought, quite rightly, that because it is a referendum it is not binding and therefore is even more of a protest vote than the 2014 European elections.
But then, we all know it is not about ignoring the British will that the Prime Minister is slaving to the vote. It is because of another civil war that could ignite – within the very ranks of the Conservative Party. But is it better to risk Britain in order to keep the Conservative Party intact?