The UK after the Referendum: All That Is Solid Melts Into Air…..

This piece makes some important comments.


The EU referendum result came as a shock to just about everyone, including the leaders of the “Leave” campaign (and me).

The aftershocks of this earthquake in British politics are still being felt.

Three of the central antagonists – the Prime Minister David Cameron, the leader of “Leave” Boris Johnson and leader of UKIP Nigel Farage – have all ‘resigned’. The leader of the Opposition is clinging onto office by his fingernails.

These individual dramas and excitements are, however, mere sideshows.

The real tragedy is the way the British constitution has been turned on its head.

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6 Responses to “The UK after the Referendum: All That Is Solid Melts Into Air…..”

  1. “The real tragedy is the way the British constitution has been turned on its head.”

    Either people are following the rules, and you don’t like them—OK, but not anything turned on its head. Or they are not, in which case take them to court!

    The main problem is that a referendum which is not binding is pointless. Representative democracy is a means to an end. A referendum is a corrective when there might be a substantially different majority in the electorate than in parliament (a situation more likely in an undemocratic first-past-the-post two-party system like in the UK).

    Nevertheless, I think that whatever position one holds, ignoring the referendum would be morally wrong.

    • telescoper Says:

      I don’t think the referendum should be ignored. On the other hand it should not be taken as a mandate to introduce a version of post-BrExit politics that nobody voted for either in the referendum or in a general election. My biggest fear is that this will simply end in what is effectively a right-wing coup. It will certainly be that if Andrea Leadsom is elected leader of the Conservative Party and thus installed as PM.

      • Referenda should be questions which are essentially yes/no. This was such a question. What form the absence of EU membership takes is a different question: Norway and Switzerland are very different (yes, they are both expensive and have mountains and a relatively small population, but there the essential similarity ends), not to mention, say, Albania or Kosovo.

        The sensible thing to do would be to call a general election with the campaigns assuming Brexit as given, so the debate would be about the form.

        Of course, some could call for ignoring the referendum, or having another one. However, many of the detrimental effects are not due to the Brexit per se, but to the fact that it is not clear where the UK is headed.

      • telescoper Says:

        Unfortunately the Fixed Term Parliament Act does not allow the governing party simply to call a general election, even if they wanted to. Whoever comes next can make arbitrary decisions without any mandate.

        I don’t like Theresa May but I think she is intelligent enough to not make a stupid decision to trigger Article 50 before clear options are available. Andrea Leadsom, however, is a hard-right zealot (and a proven liar) who will probably trigger Article 50 right away. If that happens we’re totally screwed, and I don’t mean just science and universities. I mean everything.

      • Adrian Burd Says:

        To have a referendum, binding or not, on such an important topic and to use a simple majority to decide the outcome, is a recipe for disaster. For such momentous decisions, most other democracies use a supermajority to decide the answer.

        I have to admit that I am still reeling from this whole Brexit affair. The ineptitude of the country’s leaders and their dereliction of their responsibilities is staggering and beggars the imagination.

        I have to admit that, although I have read a great deal about this decision, I have yet to see a rational, defensible argument for leaving the EU. The economic arguments are extremely dubious at best, the sovereignty arguments are either so subtle I’m missing something, or they are ridiculous. The only two things that seem to hold any water are a) xenophobia and racism, and b) “Britain flourished on her own before, she can do it again”, combining myth and jingoistic nostalgia for a time that was very different.

        Last night my wife asked if she, as an American, had a better grasp of European/British economic issues and politics than most UK citizens. I had to admit that she does.

        I can only hope that Americans learn from what has happened in the UK and do not elect Trump as president.

    • Chris Chaloner Says:

      It shows the need for a written constitution that is difficult to change. The US has a complicated scheme involving consent by Congress and also by individual states. Many organistaions require 2/3 or 3/4 majority for constitutional-scale changes. Because we have no written constitution it seems nobody even knows what the rules are – whether an Act of Parliament is required or not. Basically, Constitutions should be difficult and slow to change and it should not be possible on a simple majority.

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