Professor Graham Room, Director of Research, Professor of Social Policy, Department of Social & Policy Sciences
The people have spoken: they want out. It is now incumbent on Parliament and Government to implement this decision: incumbent in a political – if not in a constitutional - sense.
It won’t be immediate: nor indeed will it be over by Christmas. We will probably remain members of the EU through 2017 and 2018. This is because we are members of the EU by international treaty and that treaty includes a specific procedure (Article 50 of the 2009 Lisbon treaty) for a member state wishing to leave. This allows a country two years to negotiate the terms of its exit, from the moment it notifies the EU of its intention to leave. But once that notification is triggered, the clock begins ticking. Negotiations cannot extend beyond the two-year notice period, unless all remaining EU member states agree.
What terms of exit are likely to be agreed? That will depend partly on what we say we want, but also on what the other EU countries are prepared to offer.
Stephen Kinnock has suggested that the pro-European majority in the Commons will want us to have EEA status, so that we retain access to the single market, and with it free movement and ECJ competence. That runs contrary to the Brexit campaign's twin themes of "restoring" sovereignty and ending free movement. So what will Parliament decide? But maybe that question will not arise, at least until the terms of exit have been agreed, between the EU and whatever UK government is then in office. After all, last winter Parliament had no role in endorsing the terms on which the PM sought to negotiate reforms with Brussels, nor was it asked to give its blessing to the deal he brought back and commended to the electorate. So maybe Parliament will again be marginalised, in deciding our terms of exit.
What will the EU members be prepared to offer? The Brexit campaigners argue that it will be in the interests of the EU to agree an early and generous exit agreement with the UK. That is not self-evident. Many expect the EU to negotiate a hard bargain, if only to discourage others who might think of heading for the exit, and in order to counter the right-wing nationalist elements which many of them face within their own countries.
There is however an additional reason to expect a hard bargain – in particular from our friends, who will most regret our departure.
The key question is this: will the UK Parliament and Government feel themselves obliged to persist with exit, no matter how hard the terms which the EU offers? Or will they take the view that under those conditions they would have no alternative but to put those terms to a new referendum? Nothing in the EU Treaty would prevent the UK government from doing this: and then allowing the result of that second referendum to abort the withdrawal process.
Is it not therefore possible that an informal alliance may now develop between the pro-European elites within the UK and their counterparts across Europe – aimed at ensuring that the deal which the EU offers is indeed meagre: in the knowledge that such a deal will oblige the government to put the terms on offer to a new referendum? It is those terms on offer in 2018 that will thus prove far more important in the long run than those which Cameron brought back from Brussels to launch the referendum campaign.
True, that may sour the British public even more than it is at the moment: but that mood may turn against the Brexiteers rather than against the EU itself. After all, by that stage the Brexiteers may well be prominent – if not dominant – within a post-Cameron Conservative government: facing a perfect storm of a deteriorating economy, renewed calls for Scottish independence and a public increasingly weary of their Euro-antics. What a mess!!!
Prof Room always has an original and persuasive viewpoint.