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Barring a landslide, the implications of the EU referendum will still be unclear once the votes have been counted and announced. If there is a majority for Britain’s leaving the EU, there will remain years of negotiation about the terms of disentanglement. And who is to exclude a further referendum about these terms? The formality is that exit from the EU must be completed within two years from the date on which a member state gives notice of its intention to leave. However, in the event of a “Leave” vote on June 23, the UK government is likely to enter into prolonged talks, perhaps lasting for years, before it starts this two-year clock. This is clear from a briefing from within the “Leave” campaign.

(Illustration by Michael Daley)

If the “Remain” camp wins, the substantive and political outcomes will also be unclear. Will the EU commitment negotiated by Prime Minister David Cameron that the UK will be exempt from “ever closer union” provide real protection against membership of a developing European federation? Will the EU’s highest court in Luxembourg use the Charter of Fundamental Rights introduced by the Lisbon Treaty to ride roughshod over the House of Commons? Will a referendum victory for Cameron end divisions over the issue of Europe within the Conservative party? Could it even have the opposite effect?

Whether or not the anti-EU forces among the Conservatives accept the result in the event of a pro-European verdict by the voters will depend to a significant extent on the perceived fairness or bias of the referendum process itself. Cries of “foul” will undoubtedly be dismissed as sour grapes but they may well resonate if they are credible.

At this stage, it is hard to judge either the fairness of the referendum rules themselves or whether they are being honoured. A certain amount of grumbling is only to be expected. We are already witnessing bad-tempered quarrelling about the rules of the game to the point at which the chair of the House of Commons select committee responsible for constitutional affairs, the Brexiteer Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, has used Cameron’s appearance on May 4 before the Liaison Committee of the House of Commons to threaten the Government with a legal writ.

It is important to distinguish between several different aspects of discontent as well as between the available evidence for them. The most provocative charges concern alleged dirty deals by the Number 10 team to obtain campaign funds, favourable publicity and the backing of the trade unions as well as parts of the pro-Tory press. So far, this gossip has filtered out mainly through channels such as Private Eye and the website of the blogger Guido Fawkes. A charge made directly to the Prime Minister during his appearance before the Liaison Committee was that he had done a deal with Len McCluskey, leader of the mighty Unite trade union: in exchange for a hefty trade union financial contribution to the “Labour In” campaign, the government would amend its proposed trade union legislation. As Polly Toynbee reported in the Guardian, the Prime Minister “had to call off the dogs and accept the Lords amendments to his flagship trade union bill to have any hope of getting the unions out actively campaigning for remain. . . . Cameron had to do it. He needed unions to fund Alan Johnson’s impoverished Labour In campaign.”

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Geoffrey Brittan
June 25th, 2016
11:06 PM
People might do well to consider that voting is an emotional activity. Voters do not ‘weigh’ issues, policies or legislative agenda. Voters make an emotional choice in much the same way that buying a house, in which to live, is an emotional decision despite the financial calculations. This is always the danger of a referendum because it is ‘assumed’ that voters make a thoughtful, calculated choice. They don’t. They vote from emotion manipulated by both sides of a referendum debate. That is the ‘take-away’ from the Brexit debacle. People will theorise about why this happened and how it came to pass but the argument and intellectual discussion will be largely window dressing for the gut-wrenching reality that characterises modern Britain. Politics hasn’t changed. The Brexit campaign has exposed politics for what it has always been, though people cling to weak perceptions about ‘vision for the country’ or ‘a principled response.’ Politics has always been the naked, unbridled pursuit of power. There is a real chance that American voters in November will cast ballots motivated by fear, anxiety, and an unconscious compulsion to vote for a loud, brash, fuzzy future too. Many of us will look back, after the election, and wonder to what extent Brexit predicted the outcome. A footnote Following a television interview, a BBC reporter Ros Atkins indicated that, on the day following the Brexit vote, the most popular Google query in Britain was “what is the EU?”

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