On Monday the 19th of September the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, repeated his party’s position on LBC that another referendum should be held on any Brexit deal reached with the EU.
This desire is held by politicians across the spectrum – Owen Smith has made it the flagship of his campaign.
At face value, this makes sense. On June 23rd the UK public voted to leave the EU, but had no way of expressing what type of Brexit deal they were looking for.
Brexit could end up being anything from a Norway-style EFA deal to a plan which leaves Britain in a state of complete isolation from the EU. It’s practical that the public should be given the chance to say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ to exactly what is on offer.
Any political figure campaigning for a second EU Referendum either has a problem with honesty or is simply ignorant.
Yet, the more this proposal is examined the more it becomes clear that any political figure supporting it either has a problem with honesty to voters, or is simply ignorant.
Let’s start with the legalities. Article 50 clearly specifies that 2 years after we formally notify the EU of our intention to leave, the negotiations must cease unless unanimously decided otherwise by the 27 remaining member states.
The EU is already substantially fractured politically speaking, and further polarisation is imminent in the next few years as Brexit negotiations continue. As a result, we can say with almost absolute certainty that unanimous support for delaying Brexit even further isn’t going to happen.
We’ve tested Europe’s patience to the limit already. The EU aren’t going to wait around for us to hold yet another referendum, then keep on coming back and forth to the negotiation table constantly until we receive terms we finally deem fit to grant our royal approval.
There’s no legal mechanism for re-joining if we change our mind
So that’s clear – 2 years after triggering Article 50, we’re either out with the deal that’s on the table, or with nothing. There’s no plan B, and no legal mechanism for re-joining if we change our mind.
EU leaders aren’t going to be starting talks before we’ve given that notification either. The EU is legally allowed to refuse informal Brexit talks until Article 50 is triggered. As well as this, president of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker has also taken measures to ban “negotiations behind closed doors in smoke-filled rooms”. Lastly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel – an EU powerhouse – has also stated that, whilst May can take her time leaving the EU, Germany will not enter into negotiations until it is obligated to by Article 50.
It seems that, for the time being, there will be no pre-negotiation to try and cheat the deadline.
So in this context of reality, let’s go back and take another look at the proposal for a second referendum. This vote, even if it did happen, would have to be based on the deal in front of us, or leaving with no deal at all.
Once Article 50’s triggered we’ve got two years, then we’re out.
There’s no legal way to just reverse our decision. Once Article 50’s triggered we’ve got two years, then we’re out. End of story.
So the next time you hear Owen Smith or Tim Farron get on their soap box and try to persuade the UK public that we can just change our minds if Brexit turns out to be not-so-fantastic after all, think twice. They’re either knowingly misleading the public, or are oblivious to the black-and-white impossibility of the proposition.
I’m not completely sure which is worse for two men vying to be Prime Minister.
Image credit: flickr.com/number10gov
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