Things are far from settled

On the face of it, it’s clear. The referendum decided that Britain should leave the EU.

And yet, despite this, there have been rallies across the country opposing Brexit, several million people signing a petition to Parliament urging it to vote against triggering Article 50, and the devolved Scottish government hinting it could block the process.

So why is this? There are three reasons:

But beyond these immediate reasons, there are above all growing doubts about what the alternative to membership might be. Two have been contemplated — and they are both problematic.

Some Leave campaigners claimed we could exit the EU but remain in the single European market and continue to enjoy unfettered access for all British goods and services to what is still, by a mile, our vital main export market. But full access like we have now requires accepting the common rules for the common market, over which we will no longer have a say. It is also likely to require acceptance of free movement — exactly the point that Leave campaigners said was unacceptable! We’d end up keeping what they consider to be the main disadvantage of membership, while losing our say over single market rules that will affect us anyway.

Other Leave campaigners therefore advocated exiting the single market entirely (“going global”). This is likely to be highly damaging to our economy. We would face tariffs on exports to Europe and we would need quickly to negotiate new trade agreements across the world to replace those we currently have via the EU, which were secured with the full clout of the world’s largest market behind us. No wonder the world is aghast at this prospect!

Before triggering the Article 50 divorce negotiations, the government has to plump for one of these two unpalatable options. It has no explicit mandate for either, and so should allow time for a full debate in Parliament and in the country.

But I would not be surprised if that debate gave rise to even more calls from former Leave voters for a rethink. They will rightly say that that is not what they were told. And, even from a eurosceptic perspective, we’re better off in than following either of those two paths.

Whether that requires a referendum on the alternative chosen by the government, or on the outcome of the negotiations, or a repeat of the referendum on membership, or a general election, or a reaffirmation of Britain’s traditional parliamentary sovereignty for taking such decisions… this will be the subject of much debate.

But the idea that the recent referendum has settled the issue is surely dead.


  1. dear Richard,

    you might have aded that the expatriate vote (over 15 years absence) – promised but finally denied by DC – might have reversed the result …

    Art 50 stipulates that the agreements on 1. leave 2. the new system of EU/UK relations are two distinct and successive ones. Negociations on the 2nd will only start when the 1st has been settled. Sincerely JG

    • “you might have aded that the expatriate vote (over 15 years absence) – promised but finally denied by DC – might have reversed the result …”

      Yes. I could not get to vote on this issue. And I resent that I was not allowed to air my voice on the matter.

      That was a good point to make.

    • SO RIGHT; this is an unique occurrence in any referendum that the NATIONALS of a country are banned to vote in an election/referendum. Brings on the scene conspiracy theories about alter motives of UK to break the EU.

      • I too did not get to vote and therefore consider this referendum to be undemocratic. Yet now we UK residents in EU seem to be top of the agenda. That doesn’t make me feel any better, unfortunately …

  2. The fact that two leading Brexit rats have left the sinking ship gives further weight to your argument. But how do you rate the chances of cross party cooperation on this vital question?

    • Rats! That’s exactly what those two are!
      As a French citizen I am rather surprises:
      1. Some British people don’t accept the result of the vote, this is the very first time, I believe, therefore it means something.
      2. People don’pilory the two “rats” who seemed to have no other aim than exercerbating xenophobia in Britain
      My very best wishes to British people.

  3. I agree with your position, Richard.

    But please don’t keep saying that the result is “clear”. It is not, it is narrow, marginal even. To make such a huge constitutional change, should have a much more substantial majority – the two thirds that is traditional in many of our trade unions, professional bodies, charities, political parties. We have been ill served by incompetent politicians who did not think to build this in. Did Mr Corbyn suggest a higher threshold? I haven’t heard anyone say so

    Of course, if we had a written constitution, it would spell out how changes could be made, including incorporating those checks and balances that a mature democracy needs

    • The EU Referendum Act did not set any threshold – 50%, 66%, whatever – because the referendum was never set up to be a Vote. It was an advisory Consultation. This is clearly set out in the Act and made clear again in the Commons Briefing Paper 07212 of June 2015 which all MP’s would have seen.

      The question is: why did the PM not make this clear to the public.before the referendum, or even now, (except for David Lammy). Why did the entire establishment PRETEND that it was a real Vote and why do they CONTINUE to pretend? Especially when there is so much at stake and so much damage being done . It is the most bizarre situation without any apparent rational explanation – other than sheer political cowardice.

  4. The process was unfair I would even say fraudulent.

    Why British expats for more than 15 years couldn’t vote ?
    Why EU residents for more than 15 years with British children couldn’t vote ? We end up with no voice in our original country and no voice in our welcoming country .

    Why 16-17 years old couldn’t vote but the over 75 could ? This was a special referendum with long term consequences. It is relevant to the youngs not to the olds . It should have involved the people most concerned.

    On another hand , why commonwealth citizens on a 6 months visa were allowed to vote ? They arguably have an invested interest to see the UK out. An Australian or Pakistani on a visit shouldn’t have had the right to vote.

    Finally, the rule should have been all 4 countries must agree to be out to validate the decision. England has by far the greatest number of people and for it to force other countries to be out is undemocratic and will obviously lead it to its separation. Specially if this decision was made on lies and deceptions.

    you cannot call this a democratic process under these rules. This was a scam.

    • Garbage! This was a decision made by the ENTIRE British electorate. Indeed, it is ONLY THE THIRD time we have had a UK-WIDE referendum in which EVERY vote COUNTED wherever it was cast in stark contrast to our fake general elections held under the undemocratic and archaic disgrace of First Past The Post whereby I living in an ultra-safe Tory seat have a far less valuable vote to an elector living in a marginal Tory/Labour seat just 15 miles down the road. Scotland held a referendum in September 2014 about whether it wanted to become an independent state and it rejected it by 55% to 45% and Mr Cameron announced the referendum on EU membership in EARLY 2013 so people who voted in that Scottish referendum would have known that the Tories could win the general election in 2015 and we would have this referendum.

      Perhaps, Labour should have held that electoral reform referendum on a PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION electoral system they promised in their 1997 general election manifesto and then we wouldn’t have had this referendum? As ever, Labour didn’t look into the future and refused to hold that referendum for their own short-termist and self-serving reasons.

      • I have heard of incidents of eligible voters not receiving postal votes. These would have been remain voters. How on earth do the leave voters feel about saying he had accomplished what he had set out to do? How could they have blindly trusted Johnson and Give? How can they believe ‘it’ll all be fine’? I truly despair.

      • Maybe a lot of people voted, but based on what? The lies repeated over and over by the Leave campaign were truly atrocious. They certainly misled many voters. The actual meaning of “leave” was also unclear. Finally, much of what was being voted on was simply based on racist views of our country.
        I hope that there will be several legal challenges on the Referendum, eventually leading to its cancellation or a rerun. I can only say that the performance of the lead players on both sides has been truly pathetic. I guess we got what we deserved with this bunch, but now we need to repair the damage.

  5. Very rich, coming from the party that gave us the carnage of Iraq and the assault on private pensions. I voted Labour for some 60 years and was once a member. No more. Your finished.

    • Hi Roy. If you voted Labour for 60 years you must be into your eighties. Thanks for support over those years. Sorry we lost you.

  6. Richard When the referendum on Scottish devolution took place in 1978, a 40% threshold was applied because it was a major constitutional issue.

    In the event most people voted for devolution but because it fell below the threshold, Parliament decided to note the result and no further action was taken.

  7. The country is in absolute crisis with no one to take charge of the situation. If we leave we may well have riots on the streets, if we stay we may have riots on the streets too.
    This is very serious, people may die.
    The answer seems to be politicians playing power games. It is just not good enough.

  8. Can you globalists FOR ONCE accept the result of a democratic election? You had virtually the ENTIRE political Establishment on your side, big business, even the US president came over to lend a hand yet you still LOST! It’s high time you accepted the result and moved-on! Let’s face it, if the result had been 50.1% for staying-in and 49.9% for leaving and we Brexiteers had whinged about the result you would have been telling us to shut-up and go away!

    • Barry Scarce, I find it annoying that some people insist that this was an election! This was a referendum with a non binding clause in it. Not an election. A motion was asked of the people, 37% of the people said yes they agree with the idea, 35% said no thank you. And 27% didn’t say anything. It is far too close for this to be a safe result. 37% of the electorate cannot make 63% of the electorate do what they want. It is a referendum. Once you change this you cannot go back in 5 years and revote. That is why the result has to be safe. It has always been harder to prove a referendum than fail one. So that the country knows the result is safe, that this really is the will of the people. At the moment we do not. Now it is up to the politicians to actually vote on the motion. That is democracy.

    • Barry it wasn’t a football match to win or lose. We have not lost. Brexit has stolen my constitutional birthright, my self perception as a European and my children’s future. All on a false prospectus for reasons mostly to do with the internal machinations of the Tory party. You cannot expect me to accept this with your tiny relative majority. This referendum was an aberration in unusual circumstances and a travesty politically as well as a historic mistake – which is why there is a clear majority in parliament for remain. I fear that we have learned something about the advantages of a parliamentary system, with the two dangers of referendums and the royal prerogative on either side. Parliament has been an effective vehicle for consensus and a buffer against extremism for generations. I sincerely hope that it may bury the ludicrous Brexit fantasy in the interests of its electors, which is its job …

    • It wasn’t a vote it was a Consultation. Read the Act. Study the law. Parliament will decide, not the referendum. Bit like a penalty shootout.

      Word count of Leaver posts to date:
      Move on 4,567
      Get Over It 7,667
      It’s Done 5,434
      Losers 7.565
      Whingers 4,565
      You LOST! 6,456
      We WON! 8.896

  9. The Welsh now prefer Remain, say YouGov from a poll for ITV/Cardiff University published today, 5 June (46% to 41% for Leave).

    Polling from Ipsos-Mori and BMG (both 29-30 June) finds that 5% of Leavers would now vote Remain, and that a higher turnout would bring a win for Remain.

    Leavers were never a majority; they were only ever a plurality, but already they are a minority.

  10. Richard, I agree.

    The EU Referendum was a democratic advisory vote, but acting on it would not be.

    75% of under 24s voted for remain vs 39% of 65+. So the advisory message is that in 3-5 years time the vote is likely to swing to remain, as younger voters come in and we lose older ones.

    So it would be undemocratic to set a path for the next 15-30 years based on this small margin. What other country would make major constitutional change on a 52-48 vote.

    Indeed, by 2019, there’s a good chance that Andrea Leadsom and Boris Johnson will change their minds again.

  11. Richard Corbett

    As a Yorkshire MEP, I am one of your constituents. I voted Leave, as did almost 58% of people in Yorkshire. Please cease your attempts to undermine or overturn the democratic verdict of the British people including a sizable majority of people in your constituency.

    What are your reasons for concluding that “things are far from settled”?

    1. The narrowness of the result. You do not mention that Leave won more votes than any other other party or cause in British history, on a historically high turnout of 72%. You include non-voters, but as (except for a very small minority) registering and voting is easy, non-voters were either entirely ignorant of the referendum or were pleased for others to make their decision. Non-voters should not be part of the equation at all, or otherwise compulsory voting should be introduced.

    2. You claim people are realising they were “taken in” by the “lies” of the Leave campaign. Now I’d agree that the infamous 350 million figure is wrong, and I guess VL stuck with it for effect. But it hardly makes a difference in voters’ minds if it is 350 million, or the correct figure of about 250 million. Anyway, 350m is not entirely incorrect – it is the gross figure before the rebate. It could be argued the rebate is not entirely guaranteed, we can see how PM Blair bargained much of it away a decade ago.

    There is also very little evidence of what has been called “Bremorse”. I believe the claims that Leave voters regret our decision are a media-created narrative not in accordance with reality. While polls are not entirely trustworthy these days, the latest Ipsos Mori showed equal numbers of Leave and Remain voters thinking the Leave vote was bad/good, respectively.

    3. You say that Remain’s claims have been vindicated. What – like Osborne saying interest rates would go up, when they’re likely to go down? Or that taxes will fall (to further attract businesses), not rise? Or Obama saying we’d be at the back of the queue for trade agreements, when infact the US Congress and other countries are lining up for post-Brexit agreements?

    Now that we have voted Leave, a Brexit deal will be negotiated. Corbett rightly says there are broadly two options, but misrepresents what they involve:

    1 The Norway option – endlessly misrepresented by Remainers and the minority of Norwegian Europhiles. No, the EEA does *not* mean accepting all EU rules without a say – it means accepting about 10% of EU rules a year, with a right of reservation if unwanted, with many formal routes of influence and consensus on these rules, and a greater say on the global bodies which actually make most of these rules. While the EEA does indeed mean accepting Freedom of Movement, this is only Free movement of labour, not all people (ie, no dependents). Most importantly, the EEA agreement includes an emergency break on immigration, which was used by Liechtenstein.

    2. Corbett, in talking about tariffs, seems to assume the only options are the EEA option or the WTO option – though in my view the WTO option isn’t really an option at all. If we do not stay in the Single Market, considering the importance of the UK market to the EU a free trade agreement would certainly be negotiated, eliminating most or all tariffs.

    We would not need to negotiate new trade agreements – there is a presumption of continuity in cases like this, and anyway, we would join the EFTA which has negotiated most agreements same as the EU and also has additional agreements with countries like the Philippines, and one in force with Canada. There’s also here the claim that the EU’s “clout” benefits us in securing trade agreements. Infact, many smaller, pro-trade counties like Chile, Peru, Switzerland, Singapore, New Zealand, Korea and even Iceland have proven better at trade agreements than the EU (even when excluding the EU itself from these countries’ agreements). As a large economy and with a pro-free trade mindset we can do even better.

    I am also puzzled by the claim that even for Eurosceptics, staying in the EU would be preferable to the Norway option or what might be called the Canada option. Certainly this isn’t the case and I can’t think of any other Leavers for which it would be. Although many Leavers dislike the Norway option as it does retain FOM and a small number of EU rules, I don’t know of any who would prefer EU membership to Brexit and then EEA membership/

    • For someone who sounds quite knowledgeable you seem to be quite unaware about referendums. They may be the opinion of the people but they do not make law. In our sovereign parliament the parliamentarians who we elect make the legally binding decisions. Not the people. That is how democracy works in England. So while 37% of the electorate may be of the opinion on the 23rd of June that they think they may like to do one thing it doesn’t actually mean that it has to happen. The result of this referendum is unsafe. And if it wasn’t for your over riding desire to leave the EU colouring your thinking you too would agree. It is too close for a referendum, the lies were too excessive and the vote for some was more a protest vote against the Austerity measures of the Conservatory party, Thankfully it is now up the British parliamentarians to debate and vote on the issue.

  12. If the referendum had been about a financial service, or a fitted kitchen, or indeed most other consumer products, the Leave campaign goons would have been guilty of mis-selling – which is illegal.

    So now we have a country, a continent and our children’s future at stake, but the protagonists are happy to ‘get back to normal life’ and leave the rest of us to try and sort the dire,chaotic mess they have left in their wake. Let’s show Farage et al that their work is ‘not done’. The sham result is not binding in any way. Our politicians should act in the best interests of our country and fight to get it overturned.

  13. I am moving on from the argument that the Brexit vote was undemocratic, to the question of the democratic mandate for the exit plan.

    At the moment, that one is quite simple: there is no plan, so there is no need for any mandate, but that will change soon, and I fear that a hastily made plan will be executed before we have a chance to stop it, unless we begin now to avert it.

    I suggest that we should be allowed a vote on the choice of exit plan. Whether we are given a choice of plans to vote on, or we vote in the team to implement the plan, or a combination of both, we must be allowed a vote of some sort.

    • There reaches a point where voting becomes a farce. Not everyone is equipped with the knowledge/experience necessary and many do not have the desire, or time, to find it. It is impractical, and arguably immoral, to ban those who may have a…less than complete understanding (and who would define that?)…as a result votes are often led by the gut. This is partly why we have a relatively broad vote for a government that will hopefully lead us into the best situations – or in other words we elect a team every general election. We must trust them to pick the right plan and people (if there are any).

      In any case I suspect any exit plan will split the country as much as the recent EU vote – with probably as much rhetoric, slander and insults (from all sides). We’ve had enough uncertainty and political poison to last a lifetime already. What is needed are firm and fast decisions so that the UK, Europe and global organisations can get on with the business of life. Better to have a plan than to hem and haw, even if the choice turns out to be a bad one, and two years is long enough.

      Democracy’s great but it is not known for firm or fast – more wavering and ponderous – more like a drunk man trying to find his way home, while listening to directions from a flock of seagulls, and doing his best to avoid the splatter.

  14. I completely agree with you Richard and we all now need to tell the world that it is not all over. There will have to be debate in Parliament when the Brexit argument will fall apart.We are still in the EU and it is not over ‘to the fat lady stops signing’.Onwards and upwards.

  15. I think the rules regarding the referendum were explicitly set out, and MPs who voted for this referendum also promised to uphold the result. I think it’s settled.

    Leave also promised to control immigration, stop payments to Brussels and to not abide by EU regulations. This was set out extremely clearly to the electorate. Remain were extremely clear on the consequences of this, and we were fully warned. Yet many voters consider sovereignty and immigration to be more important than markets.

    Obviously this rules out the EEA, and even the EFTA, and this is almost certainly not an option for the UK anyway as many in the EU are opposed to it. Even if we wanted to join in the long term, we would be dumped out into WTO rules for a few years. This aspect is settled also.

    The only thing that is not settled is what our long-term relationship with the EU will look like. This will be on party manifestos and therefore I urge an earlier general election once our initial ejection from the EU is complete.

    Sorry to be so pessimistic.

    (I voted to Remain)

  16. Definitely there should be an option for a further referendum on the actual plan given that leave didn’t have one which is indeed creating chaos – this is far from over and I for one do not want to lose my EU citizenship on the back of this shambles.

  17. Richard
    1. A mandate is a legal command to do something. The referendum was advisory so to make the huge leap and say the government has now a mandate to issue article 50 is downright untrue.
    2. Many of my friends who voted leave did so because they genuinely thought more money would be allocated to the NHS. Not necessarily 350 million but some. As someone who used to work in the NHS – what happens when a population declines (which what might happen with any brain drain and people returning to their EU country of origin) is the allocation of funds to GPs and hospitals is reduced. Also, health research funding, a lot of which is funded by the EU, would disappear. So funds left for patient care will need to be diverted away from patient care. Given how our economy overall will decline, all NHS funding will be closely scrutinised and in all likelihood reduced. The lives and welfare of every single person in the UK would probably be lowered through leaving.

    3. TTIP- whilst we have the backing of Europe through the EU, insurance privatisation of core NHS services will not occur. Outside of the EU – then expect to pay health insurance. More money out of your pocket – less for holidays!

    4. The EU is in need of reform. To take us out on the basis of the referendum is barmy, has no legal basis and undemocratic. A 4% difference with 20% non voters is statistically insignificant.

    5. Leavers who say you are not following the will of the people perhaps need to reflect. Yes, we respect your views. Yes, we want to talk with you. But make no mistake we remainers will not be forced or bullied into submission over what is 37.44% of the electorate saying leave. You are not the majority.

    Richard – don’t give up the fight. Expose the implications of a leave. Listen to leavers and try to give them answers. Push for legal action against Farage (racial hatred) and Johnson/Gove (intent to seriously mislead the public whilst in office). Push for better media control. People have been seriously misled – our MP has given information to me that they are aware of 1.1 million bregetters. My guess is just the tip of the iceberg.

  18. There is another alternative, Richard, and the only one I am aware of that keeps us in the single market and satisfy many who voted leave. We should draft something on EU migration which accepts the principle of free movement across the EU, but allows Britain (and other countries if they wish) to limit migration from countries from which migration is above a certain amount. We then go to the EU and see if they are prepared to negotiate on this, with Britain either in the EU or at least in the single market.

    • Since one of the main planks of Brexit is CONTROLLING IMMIGRATION, I think it’s interesting to check what the existing EU rules are on rights of movement:

      “a.Rights and obligations:
      For stays of under three months: the only requirement for Union citizens is that they possess a valid identity document or passport. [I.E.3 MONTHS STAY, SAME AS FOR ANY TOURIST]
      For stays of over three months: the right of residence is subject to certain conditions. EU citizens and their family members — if not working — must have sufficient resources and sickness insurance to ensure that they do not become a burden on the social services of the host Member State during their stay. [IE. INDEPENDENT MEANS OR A JOB REQUIRED. NO JOB = NO STAY]
      Right of permanent residence: the directive gives Union citizens the right of permanent residence in the host Member State after a five-year period of uninterrupted legal residence, provided that an expulsion decision has not been enforced against them. The right of permanent residence is lost only in the event of more than two successive years’ absence from the host Member State.
      Restrictions on the right of entry and the right of residence: Union citizens or members of their family may be expelled from the host Member State on grounds of public policy, public security or public health.” [I.E. A RIGHT OF EXPULSION] .

      Well, it sounds pretty well controlled already. No Job, no stay, unless you have a independent income and health insurance. So what exactly is supposed to change to satisfy Brexiters?

  19. “…several million people signing a petition to Parliament urging it to vote against triggering Article 50”

    The one I’m aware of was about the rules of the referendum, not Article 50. If there’s another with millions of signatures, do post a link.

  20. dear richard i belive that before article 50 is invoked a debate must take place in parliament followed by a vote

    ps can the uk negotiate a new treaty to enable the uk a form of membership

  21. By now, almost everyone knows that the legal status of the referendum as decided by Parliament was a non-binding Consultation, and not a binding Vote. It is up to Parliament to decide what action to take, if any.

    The elephant in the room question is: Why did the entire establishment apparently pretend that it was a binding Vote, or at least an irreversible Mandate, and why do they CONTINUE to pretend? Especially when there is so much at stake in terms of irreversible damage, even if there is no Brexit.

    I am still totally baffled as to why not one MP sought to clarify the issue to the public before the referendum, or even now (with the exception of David Lammy SFAIK). It is the most bizarre situation – is there any rational explanation?

    The only sane explanation seems to be that the PM and co. expected a Leave vote of not more than 49%, at which point he could move in his imaginary “50% binding” goalpost and claim “victory” – perhaps hoping that nobody would notice the sleight of hand? It is hard to think of any other sane explanation. The plan misfired of course.

    Serious questions remain:

    How did this pretence apparently become a conspiracy of almost the entire Commons? RICHARD – CAN YOU HELP HERE?

    Why does Theresa May continue with the pretence? Machiavellian deviousness?

    Now, the least that Cameron and his Cabinet colleagues could do, if they had any honour, is to own up and make a public statement that they misled the public as to the status of the vote. Falling on your sword of course, and will never happen. UNLESS a legal action, judicial review, parliamentary committee or public enquiry brings it all out into the open and evidence has to be given on oath. Then, we will see what is said. It will be Chilcott all over again. The problem is we can’t wait years, it has to be asap. So the immediate routes appear to be direct legal actions. That is an immediate task to be undertaken. Others are acting to seek a judicial review, I am now crowd funding for a civil action for damages suffered from the deception and failure to adequately inform the public.

  22. Not only were ex-pats denied the vote, Commonwealth citizens living in the UK were given the vote -and these people were told that leaving the EU would mean more rights for them. Perhaps the Government wanted a Leave result.

  23. If you want to make a difference sign one or all of these petitions (if you haven’t already done so)

    If, as seems to be the case, many Brexit votes were in protest at feeling ignored/disenfranchised, then we need to help people to be more engaged with the political process. Some form of PR would be a good start.

    If you are a Brexit voter who has now changed their mind then let people know that you have changed your mind.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.