The BREXIT Referendum
The verdict given by UK voters through the referendum that has been conducted, embarks on a pathway leading to a stronger national identity and combating ‘democratic deficit’ for the UK. 52% people voted in favour of leaving the European Union (EU), whereas 48% were satisfied with the former position of EU integration. The UK as a consequence of a narrow but definitive majority has voted to leave the European Union in the recent referendum. However, a few aspects must be taken into consideration when assessing the Brexit events. As everything entails both positive and negative implications, so does this decision. Now the underpinning question is, on what side does this leave UK? Greater sovereignty or lost opportunities? A victory for the UK or expected economic challenges in future?
UK, before and after the referendum
Boris Johnson, the man behind ‘Vote: Leave’, has stated that the UK now has a “glorious opportunity” to draft policies and pass laws without any external control, thus promoting independence. This reflects that power will now be transferred back from the EU bodies to the national government, settling the unbalanced influence over UK. The ‘pooled sovereignty’ between UK and EU now appears to be nothing but an eyewash, further fortifying parliamentary supremacy within the UK.
Moreover according to this viewpoint, the drawbacks of the EU membership, mainly undermining democracy in the UK, would be met by the decision of leaving the EU. These drawbacks included more policies being made at EU level rather than by elected UK government. The national parliament could not overrule EU law. A democratic deficit existed because EU bodies were not properly democratic; the only directly elected body, the European Parliament in itself had its weaknesses and little influence.
The referendum’s high voter turnout of 71.8%, with more than 30 million people voting, is the highest turnout at a UK referendum since 1992. It deals with the ‘democratic deficit’ and the ‘participation crisis’, by voters being engaged in the political arena and making a decision for their nation.
The ‘ultimate’ constitutional power of the Westminster Parliament that was challenged by the EU membership, has now been tackled through the result of the referendum. It was argued whether Parliament could any longer be viewed as a sovereign legislature. Rifts rose between political parties that were largely divided on this issue. “Eurosceptics”, especially within the Conservative party, have strongly suggested that the dominant role of EU threatened both national sovereignty and national identity.
The nature of EU has been criticized time and again, as it lingers between being either an intergovernmental body or a supranational one. Though EU did not create a federal Europe, the supremacy of European law over the national law of member states, accurately reflects the dichotomy of a “federalizing” Europe. These setbacks are illogical now, as the UK decided to go back to where it was before joining EU.
Despite all these concerns about EU membership over the years for the UK, there have been several strengthening factors that have risen as well. The maintenance of peace through an economic, monetary and political interdependence among states made conflict between Europe almost next to impossible. The European integration led to increased economic prosperity and economic growth, facilitated the movement of citizens to live and work anywhere in the EU and provided a stronger set of rights, freedoms and opportunities for everyone.
EU law was only confined to a limited area of policies, which supported the national identity of UK. EU law did not have jurisdiction over key areas such as economy, law and order, welfare, education and foreign affairs, but the European integration did have its positive impacts, which would now be vanished. The voters decided in favour of the supremacy of UK, setting itself free from any boundaries formulated by EU.
Response to the referendum
So what comes next? As discussed above, the European integration did bring several benefits for the UK over the years, but with obstacles attached. The huge impact of the referendum results was immediate and could be seen through the fact that the pound fell to its lowest level against the dollar since 1985. It is likely that economic and trade problems will dominate UK for years to come as a result of Brexit. Global markets have been shocked and investors have turned to the yen and the dollar to avoid financial crisis. The overreaching effects of the Brexit referendum around the globe can easily be judged, for instance in the Pakistan Stock Exchange, KSE-100 index fell 2pc in early trade. The Bank of England has allotted around £250 for stability issues that may be faced in the near future. Many UK leaders and politicians have condemned this result, including Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who explained how this change would result in job-related consequences. Europe Minister Keith Vaz called this outcome a “catastrophe”, not only for the UK or rest of Europe, but for rest of the world as well.
Is the referendum legally binding?
The nature of the referendum cannot be overlooked. Referendums are not legally binding in the UK; they are tools of direct democracy, playing an important function in the country. The UK Parliament remains sovereign and its decisions are binding. David Allen Green, a UK legal affairs commentator, has highlighted few legal points worth noting. He has stated that the EU referendum result, by itself, has no legal influence. It is an advisory and not a mandatory referendum. All UK law drawn from the EU remains in place today just as it was yesterday. Nothing in the referendum’s result affects the applicability or enforceability of any UK or EU law. David Cameron, the Prime Minister of UK can overrule the decision of the referendum leading to Brexit (Britain to leave the EU) and raise the question up in Parliament, which MPs in majority could resolve. An exception to this rule was viewed in the 2011 referendum, which was to shift the electoral system to alternative vote, and in that case the legislation had a provision for government to change the voting system. The EU referendum does not have such a provision in the legislation.
The legal route to leave EU would still need to be fulfilled, i.e. by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – a decision to be taken by the Prime Minister. Article 50(1) states that any member state may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirement. Furthermore, according to 50(2), a member state that decides to withdraw, shall notify the European Council of its intention, and a decision to leave would then only be possible if it is agreed to by a majority of the EU’s other 27 members. A two-year negotiation period is set accordingly to negotiate terms of exit from the bloc. In light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that state, make arrangements for its withdrawal and take account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Until that happens, the UK’s position in the EU stays unaffected by the referendum’s declaration. (If a state which has withdrawn seeks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49). Thus, the UK will remain a member of the EU for at least two years from the date on which the EU was given a notice to leave. Legally, this notice does not have to be issued at all because the results of a referendum are not legally binding. It serves only as a record of the public opinion. However, the political repercussions of going against the results of a referendum cannot be overlooked.
Another legal aspect is that the European Communities Act of 1972 may be unilaterally amended to alter the principal that EU law takes precedence over that of UK, to prevent any upcoming laws from being put into action in the UK or even to adjust the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice with respect to the UK. However, this may be legally chaotic if UK tries to dismantle the EU through its domestic legal system.
To exit from EU, the UK Parliament would need to pass laws that will get Britain out of the bloc, beginning with the cancellation of European Communities Act 1972. The withdrawal assertion likewise must be endorsed by Parliament – the House of Lords and/or the Commons could vote against sanction, as indicated by a House of Commons library report. As David Green argues, it is perfectly possible that the Article 50 ‘red button’ never gets pressed, for example if a ‘new deal’ gets concluded or a second referendum is held as there has been, after all, a tradition of the EU referendum having been repeated in member states until they have reached a ‘correct answer’. However, it appears on account of the information available that there is no plausible legal challenge to the referendum result, as these choices may not really be called authoritative, or in that sense having “no legitimate effect” as such.
Cameron previously stated that he would trigger Article 50 immediately, but the ‘leave’ supporters, such as Michael Gove have suggested not to rush. So unless legal formalities are fulfilled, the referendum’s result would not be given effective. A possibility of David Cameron overruling this decision also exists, however, the BBC has commented on the likelihood of problems intensifying if that happens, in the following words: “It would be seen as political suicide to go against the will of the people as expressed in a referendum.”
After the decision of the referendum was revealed, David Cameron resigned from his office stating, “I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers the country to its next destination.” Cameron believed Britain would be safer, stronger and better off within the EU.
Despite the legal requirements that still need to be fulfilled, the referendum result is breaking stories and news on the global stage regarding emerging political and economic fallout. With UK being the first state to leave the EU this way, the decision leaves a mark in the nation’s history. The voters’ popular consent to lead the path of independence, supremacy and promoting the historically embedded national identity of the UK, seems to have been secured. This referendum held on 23rd June 2016, to decide if UK would stay in or leave the EU did not just decide the situation for UK, but the result also sent shockwaves around the world, with global upheaval and concerns.
The fact that Brexit presents an existential threat to Britain must not be ignored. As the First Minister of Scotland highlighted, the people of Scotland wish to stay a part of the EU and no longer want to see Scotland as a part of the UK. And so, the idea of a Scottish independence referendum is surfacing. For Scotland to stay a part of the EU it must legally claim statehood first. And thus, the consequences of the referendum and the Brexit events must not be underestimated in respect of their ability to change not only the UK but also the entire global community.
To download European Parliament’s brief on Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, visit: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2016/577971/EPRS_BRI(2016)577971_EN.pdf
(Report by: Khadija Naeem, Ameer Abdaal, Deeya Farrukh, Zuha Hameed, Sania Shahid, Rimsha Tanveer Soofi)
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views any organization with which they might be associated.