The European referendum voting is, from a strict legal perspective, advisory rather than binding. MPs could in theory just ignore it, but in practice they won’t both for reasons of principle (respecting democracy) and pragmatism (imagine the public reaction). So in practice, Brexit could now only be stopped by another democratic vote – a general election or a second referendum – trumping last Thursday. Could that really happen? Here’s one option…
Immediate political punditry in the aftermath of traumatic events tends to age about as well as a four week old banana left on a beach in the south of France, so I post this as much for your chance to laugh at me in the future as for the odds of predicting it.
But here’s a thought.
Labour MPs oust Jeremy Corbyn and the party gets a pro-European leader. (Which given the new leader needs to get through the MP nomination round is a plausible outcome.)
The Conservatives also get a new leader, who announces that as leaders of both parties are now new, the only reasonable and democratic course is to no-confidence himself or herself twice in a row to cause an early general election.
This is all ahead of the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions completing their work, so the hoped-for Tory boost from new boundaries at the next general election doesn’t happen.
Imagine too in this world that the Electoral Commission has got a move on and drafted new election expense rules which get tabled before Parliament. In the face of police investigations the Tories find it politically impossible to oppose them.
Labour voters are re-energised to vote tactically against the Tories.
Tories win under 40% of the vote and lose their majority.
At which point a pro-European leader of the Labour Party says, ‘Parties in favour of Britain’s membership of the EU won a majority of votes and seats at the general election, so we’re going to vote down Brexit’.
I refer you to the fate of the banana, but it is also worth pondering just what an odd position any pro-European leaders of political parties are going to be in if there is a general election before Britain leaves the EU. ‘I’m pro-European but even if I win I’m not going to govern as a pro-European’ will be an uncomfortable piece of political contortion.
There is one other way Brexit might not happen: a second referendum. Possibly as the specific actual terms of Britain’s departure become clear there is enough of a grassroots public revolt over seeing the details of what it means for their community and employers that MPs are given the cover to say ‘the country voted for the principle, but now we have all the details too, let’s give the country a vote on those’. If the timings work, that might even feature in a general election manifesto for a winning party – such as a variant (probably a more plausible variant) on the above.
All of those speculations require a strong grassroots pro-European mood – on which final note, if you are not a member already can I suggest you join the Liberal Democrats today?