Leave won the vote by a small margin, yet no question in a mature liberal democracy is answered fully by a referendum: the debate continues. Theresa May needs to acknowledge that as Brexit means Brexit for England and Wales, the opposite is true for Scotland and Northern Ireland, writes Andrew Scott Crines.
The recent meeting between Prime Minister Theresa May and the leaders of the United Kingdom’s devolved administrations was a significant moment in setting the tone for the Brexit negotiations ahead. May has pledged to advance a single UK position when negotiations with the EU begin next year. This pledge could be interpreted in either of two ways. She could be attempting to compel the nations of the UK to conform to the Westminster government’s Brexit position, or she could be opening the door to other positions in the hope of destabilising the moves towards leaving the EU. The former is the most likely, however May cannot be seen to be overtly imposing the will of the Brexiteers on the devolved institutions without risking political consequences.
In the case of Scotland such consequences are well advertised. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants to at least keep Scotland in the single market and, really, her ultimate goal is to stay in the EU. The Scottish people voted to remain, which Sturgeon is interpreting as a solid mandate to oppose moves in London to take Scotland out. Similarly, Northern Ireland voted to remain. The deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, warned of dire consequences if it is also taken out of the EU, both economically and constitutionally. Only Wales and England voted to leave, which was enough to deliver a Brexit vote.
A large minority
May’s problem is that the Remain vote (although the minority) was very large across the UK, at 48%. It was also sufficiently clustered to embolden Sturgeon and McGuinness to take the UK government to task. Westminster is sovereign, so there is no legal recourse for the devolved institutions to stand up to the UK government in the manner that they are doing but they do equally have a mandate to speak up for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Remain voters in England and Wales are also sympathetic to Scotland and Northern Ireland’s cause. Although Leave won the referendum with 51.9% of the UK vote, democracy is never a single event. No subject – especially one as significant as this – in a mature liberal democracy is ever answered fully by a referendum. Put simply, the debate continues as Leave voters know all too well.
The debate also continued after 1975 when the UK voted to stay part of the European Economic Area, it continued after the passing of many treaties in bills in the House of Commons, and it would have continued if Remain had won in 2016 (particularly if it was only by 51.9%). It is disingenuous of Leave supporters to now argue the “people have spoken” and expect the debate to end. The majority have spoken but the substantial minority are significant enough to pose a constitutional, political, and economic risk to the UK if Brexiteers continue believing they have an “overwhelming” mandate. Indeed, what is surprising about the mandate is its smallness.
May, David Davis, Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and the other Brexiteers in the government (and on the opposition) have no option but to listen to Remainers – especially those representing nations that voted to stay, such as Sturgeon and McGuinness. The consequences of not doing so would be dire for relations within the UK during the Brexit talks and possibly afterwards if Scotland is seen to be treated as little more than an afterthought by the Brexit government.
So far, the hubris of the Brexiteers appears to be clouding their judgement. The task ahead is substantial. The stakes are not just the future economic prosperity of the UK but also questions of whether the UK will remain together. At this point there is a real risk that, by the end of this process, Wales and England will stand alone as a UK outside the EU and shunned by the world.
A kingdom at stake
So, how can May demonstrate she is listening? She can first acknowledge that the referendum result was a slim victory for Leave. It is not a huge endorsement for a hard Brexit. Indeed, it is a slim endorsement for something which no one appears to understand. By acknowledging the slimness of the vote it will give her room to manoeuvre which she desperately needs.
May also needs to acknowledge that for Scotland and Northern Ireland “remain means remain”. They want to remain a member of the European Union and the single market. Regardless of it being a United Kingdom vote, it would be constitutionally and politically bold to ignore that. Should May attempt to do so, it is highly probable that a second independence referendum in Scotland could occur. Whatever the result of that, the symbolism would be very negative.
The possible consequences in Northern Ireland could include growing calls to remain in the European Union through reunification with Ireland. If faced with significant economic decline these calls could become very convincing if the UK is seen to be acting in a detrimental manner and failing to take the peace process seriously. These are big issues that May and the Brexiteers simply can’t afford to ignore in favour of pursuing their victory. But they look increasingly like they are running off the edge of a cliff knowing full well what they are about to do.
Note: This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Andrew Scott Crines is Lecturer in British Politics at the University of Liverpool.
As others have said, the whole premise of this article is false.
Under our ramshackle devolution system, Foreign Affairs are matters reserved for the UK Government.
The Referendum bill was undoubtedly passed by Parliament as a UK-wide plebiscite.
Scotland and NI have only one way of choosing to take a different path to that of the United Kingdom and that is to go for full independence.
I would be perfectly happy for Sturgeon to go for an immediate second independence referendum as circumstances have clearly changed. However she won’t. As usual, the SNP will continue to whinge, bleat and blame the English for everything that goes wrong ad infinitum because Sturgeon knows that she cannot make any kind of financial case for independence that would pass the briefest scrutiny on the first day of any new independence campaign.
With a current account deficit of £15bn ( almost 10% of GDP ) she is wholly reliant on subsidies from English taxpayers and to rejoin the EU she would have to accept the Euro. That means reducing her deficit to below 3% of GDP to meet the convergence criteria to join the single currency and there is no other realistic currency option available.
While her less intelligent supporters are desperate to go over the top, Sturgeon knows she can’t possibly hope to persuade Scottish voters to accept cuts of £10bn. In short, she would lose again and she knows that would finish her career and any hope of independence for a generation.
Then, of course, there is very considerable risk that an application to join the EU will be vetoed by Spain which is paranoid over the desire of Catalonia to secede.
These are the inconvenient truths. If I were Mrs May I would be tempted to call Sturgeon’s bluff, offer her another vote and watch her squirm.
But Sturgeon will never hold new referendum till she is sure of the score. She can wait till the economy slumps.
Scotland will have another referendum. For those talking about democracy, this is only fair. Scotland voted 62% remain, can you imagine if England voted 62% in favour of something but did not get it!?! Indy2 is coming, like it or lump it. The Scottish people will decide not England. If England and Wales want to leave, then go!
At last some common sense. Now that the public have some real knowledge of the situation,a second referendum is essential to find out if May is truly speaking for the UK.
I think no one in the UK would complain if Scotland in its current form and without the rest of the kingdom could get EU like access on the basis of a decolved authority. It is the EU that needs to be convinced, good luck with that.
A Democracy is ruled by an elected legislative body NOT by non binding referendums.
So the decision to leave the UK will have to await action by the elected Parliament, otherwise
why have one? .
You are confusing the London ‘remain’ vote (London being part of England), with the Scotland ‘remain’ vote (Scotland being a separate nation in a 300 year Union with England – the clue is in the name ‘United Kingdom’). As the Brexit vote has proved – a political Union can be easily dissolved by the wishes of the sovereign population of that nation, when that Union is percieved to no longer serve its people adequately.
So the question is: what is an honourable, realistic way to ensure that the UK Remains in the EU.
Since Leave had no plan, there is no mandate to implement that non-existent plan. Since no-one takes a project from idea to implementation without reviewing the project plan there should be such a review of the terms of Brexit. Having gone down the referendum route only another referendum has the political authority to confirm or change course. So there should be a referendum on the key terms of Brexit once they have been agreed with the EU say 20 months after Article 50 has been invoked. The question on the ballot paper would be: Brexit on the agreed terms or Remain?
That would be quite different from June: for the first time the electorate would be faced with a choice between two definite worked up options. We should assume that many voters who chose their personal Brexit vision in June will not care for Theresa May’s Brexit when they find out what it means.
To have that referendum needs legislation, in practice by amending the “Great Repeal Bill” in about May 2017.
So Nicola Sturgeon should commit the SNP to supporting a referendum on the terms. The NI parties active in Westminster should join her (and the Liberal Democrats and Greens)
That would leave Labour in an improbable alliance with Theresa May and the DUP – surely it cannot last.
And given the likely closeness of the Parliamentary vote and the importance that Sinn Fein attach to borderless travel between the Republic and NI one can hope that they would at least consider suspending their policy of abstentionism for that vote.
Facebook: Campaign for the Real Referendum – on the Terms of Brexit
There is something of snag with the course you suggest. As it stands it is not clear that once Article 50 notification has been made that the process can be stopped by any means. Therefore a second referendum would best be held prior to A50 notification – this then becomes subject to the same “distortions” by those in favour of Brexit, but would be better than sleepwalking over the cliff.
Thanks for this Stefan
I think a new referendum before negotiations would just be a re-run of June with very little new information. So it could produce a different result, but not very different: let us say at best 52:48 in favour of Remain, which would not settle anything. And 54:46 in favour of Leave is also on the cards.
I think we can only properly have a second referendum when things are obviously different.
Article 50 is silent on whether a notification may or may not be withdrawn. Lawyers take different views. That means that it will be the politics that decides. The EU will want us to stay. So if the EU and we both agree that an Article 50 notification may be withdrawn, who can stop us?
Nigel Farage could take us to the ECJ. I’d love the irony.
If you are on Facebook, then you might like to look at a post dated 1 September on my page: Campaign for the Real Referendum – on the Terms of Brexit
The flip side to this is that if it was purely an english vote the leave vote would have won by a much greater margin.
That’s where your ‘democratic deficit comes in John. The percentage for Remain in Scoltland was only a 12% win. At the Scottish 8% of the population of the UK, that adds just 1% to the Remain side, (the NI figure is a negligable) so your final figure would be 52.9% for Leave. Hardly a ‘much greater margin’. I think the premise of the article still stands.
The proposition by Mrs Sturgeon that Scotland become independent and a member state of the EU is less of a threat than a series of risky propositions. She might lose the referendum. Independence could only be after Art 50 TEU had been invoked and, very probably, after the two years of negotiations had elapsed. Accession via Art 49 TEU might take several years, given, for example, the absence of very basic institutions in Scotland.
Moreover, the goal is economically very risky. Only 20% of trade is with the EU-27, while 80% is with the UK. Anything like a ‘hard’ Brexit would create border effects which would, at least, dampen growth and, probably, be significantly damaging to the economy. The creation of a new currency would aggravate these problems.
It is unclear that, after Art 50 TEU is invoked, Mrs Sturgeon has a viable threat.
Shaky argument there Ewan. (Incidently, she’s Ms Sturgeon since she kept her family name, her husband has a different surname). The EU have proved themselves to be pragmatic and accommmodating. Where do you think the advantage for the EU is in preventing an Indepenedent Scotland remaining a member…. they’d be losing that part of the UK with….
32% of the land area.
61% of the sea area.
90% of the fresh water.
65% of the natural gas production
96.5% of the crude oil production.
47% of the open cast coal production
81% of the untapped coal reserves
62% of the timber production
46% of the total forest area
92% of the hydro electric production
40% of the wind wave and solar energy production
60% of the fish landings
30% of the beef herd
20% of the sheep herd
9% of the dairy herd
10% of the pig herd
15% if the cereal holdings
20% of the potato holdings
90% of the whisky industry
And, with just 1% of the population of the EU……:
25% of Europe’s tidal energy
25% of wind power
10% of wave energy
Over 60% of EU oil production (largest oil reserve in the EU)
33% of the EUs total hydrocarbon production
17 billion pound construction industry
13 billion food and drink industry
10 billion business services industry
9.3 billion chemical services industry
9.3 billion tourism industry
7 billion financial services industry
5 billion aeroservice industry
4.5 billion pound whisky exports industry.
…and Scotland actually LIKES (by 62%) the EU!
N.I. ,Scotland and Wales didn’t have an independent referendum vote. It was a collective U.K. vote and the result was to leave. Because everyone expected to remain there was no contingency plan and now the remain voters want to invoke a retrospective plan conceived in hindsight. Brexit means Brexit and Democracy means Democracy.
Its this type of rhetoric and uninformed nonsense that got us into this mess. You cannot change Scottish or English law on a Queen’s prerogative. Article 50 must be voted on in Parliament. Remember when you voted to take back Uk Sovereignty? Well guess what? Parliament is sovereign and as such must vote on Article 50 no matter what a referendum said. That is how democracy works, get over it.. The truth is, they dont actually have a clue what they are doing and are scared to take it before parliament, as then everyone will see of for the shambles it is. You get the picture now?
It is certainly the case that there needs to be an open debate about Brexit, including the big challenges that the article refers to. However, that debate should not be conducted in bad faith. By that I mean an approach that seeks to turn issues arising from the vote into arguments to a undermine the vote itself. Unfortunately the article does that, pretty openly to be fair.
I think to state that the UK will be ‘shunned by the world’ and look like they are ‘running off the edge of a cliff knowing full well what they are about to do’ is unhelpful hyperbole.
Nationhood has always been a contested issue and filled with subtle rivalry games. Here is another. Scottish good, English bad and one largely informed by a simplistic binary leave/remain logic.
This series of info maps
https://medium.com/@jakeybob/brexit-maps-d70caab7315e#.vldmkupgm shows that all British nations were varying mixtures of leave/remain voters and so to say England is a pro-Brexit and Scotland and NI are pro-remain is to succumb to the same binary logic that you are arguing against.
In this respect, Leavers spanned Britain as a whole as did remainers. The referendum was a British vote and there was a larger proportion of leave votes across Britain which argues for
1. Leaving the European Union
2. Having an ndependant sovereign Britain that makes its own policy, rules and laws.
3. Controlled immigration.
4. Negotiated access to single market, preferably tariff-free with the possibility of contributions.
5. End the supremacy of the European Court of Justice.
6. Be free to make free trade agreements independently.
7. Opt out of the protectionist EU customs union and therefore reduce EU imposed import tariffs and therefore prices.
The question that arises is how do you combine the opposite of this policy strategy by incorporating the wishes of the remain vote when a majority voted for the former. You can’t.
However since your argument requires conflating individual kingdoms (not nations) with the overall British vote. In order to consolidate your argument, Scotland for example needs to conduct its own referendum regarding Brexit. Once you have this information, then your argument begins to stand up rather than relying on the results of a British referendum which contexualised British interests.
Do you think Andrew that England should declare independence from the UK?
Surely that would be the simplest of all..i recall all thought 2014 the unionists always reiterated their mantra, ‘if you leave the UK, you leave the EU’.
This would be the most appropriate course of action don’t you think. it’d keep everybody happy apart from perhaps the welsh, but they have actually chosen to go along with England to leave the EU, so maybe that’s not too big an issue?