Why Leave won and what’s next for the UK

Why Leave won and what’s next for the UK

Brexiteers could not have dreamed of a more propitious Zeitgeist for their campaign: the recent Euro crisis, the hasten influx of refugees and migrants, the Islamic State’s attacks in Paris and Brussels, the March 2016 EU-Turkish deal on conditional visa-free allowances, the Prime Minister’s father’s involvement in the Panama Papers affair, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s withdrawal of some of his key proposals from the UK budget.

The Leave campaign could also count on the lack of cohesiveness within the Remainers, backed by an internally fragmented Tory coalition and by an ambivalent Jeremy Corbyn. The outspoken Sadiq Khan and Nicola Sturgeon remained isolated voices in the cacophony of the In-campaign. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove proved to be able to better sell the Brexit product and were more trusted than their counterparts. The Remainers recorded a major blowback after the watershed of the February 2016 UK-EU deal, after which David Cameron – who had repeatedly declared that the UK would be fine outside of the EU in order to be taken seriously by his peers in the Council of the European Union – found himself torn apart in cajoling the UK public to vote stay.

The Remain campaign was merely defined in negative terms, highlighting the ‘disastrous consequences’ of leaving while failing to emphasize the benefits of staying. Even when the latter were rarely mentioned, the technical nature proved inapt to leverage an all-encompassing British audience, much more prone to entrust the more simplistic and less complex claims of the Outers. The more the Remainers quoted eminent economists on the dangers of leaving, the more the Outers got credit in their assertion that British citizens ‘have had enough of experts’.

Backed by some UK newspapers such as The Telegraph, Daily Mail and The Sun, the Breciters did a great job in delivering promises which Iain Duncan Smith subsequently re-coded as ‘a series of possibilities’, embarking on a propaganda-like campaign, and broadcasting information which were easy to swallow, such as the NHS is deprived of £350m per week sent instead to Brussels (whereas the net figure amounts to £120), or that 60% of UK laws are drafted in Brussels (in fact it is 13%). Not even the BBC contested the misinformation or provided a sufficiently informative coverage of the UK-EU deal – either because its correspondents were not knowledgeable enough, or because of fear of damaging the unbiased reputation of the most prestigious broadcasting institution in the UK. As I mentioned in a previous article, the Remain campaign should have held the stirrup and exerted pressure on its counterpart by asking to explicitly propose alternative arrangements to EU membership – an issue which was and currently is highly divisive among the Outers.

Although the hitherto listed rationales are factors which certainly contributed to the victory of the Leave campaign, appealing to them so to vindicate that the UK population has been manipulated by mass media and is now regretting the vote, seems like a too paternalistic and not an analytical claim. The UK as a whole voted for leaving the EU, and this is the result of the referendum. Therefore, acting responsibly on behalf of the people it represents, the UK government should start the withdrawal procedure from the EU.

The past weeks have witnessed substantial changes in UK domestic politics, starting from Prime Minister David Cameron’s resignation and the announcement of the next Tory leader Theresa May. Cast in a state of political uncertainty, the forthcoming May Cabinet will face a number of modalities for leaving the EU. Relying on its royal prerogative, the UK Prime Minister could start the withdrawing procedure by executive order and without parliamentary approval, a procedure which outlines as highly controversial as it would imply the overruling of the executive over the legislative. Overlooking Community law and relying instead on the primacy of domestic law, 10 Downing Street could decide to unilaterally invalidate the 1972 European Communities Act – a parliamentary decree incorporating EU law into domestic law. Nonetheless, this undesirable move would wipe the UK out of the EU devoid of any safe trade agreement.

Similarly, invoking Art. 50 TFEU right away would activate the two-year countdown to EU membership expiry. After such a time span – which sounds longer than how it actually is – the UK would risk to find itself divorced from the EU and deprived of solid trade deals. Until the formal withdrawal from the EU has been completed, the UK cannot stipulate bilateral trade agreements on its own – international trade policy is an exclusive competence of the Union.

Hence, in the interim period between a full withdrawal from the EU and newly established trading relationships, the UK economy will suffer twofold. Firstly, the UK will have to trade with the Union under WTO rules, thus facing EU common custom tariff. Secondly, third countries will wait to see what kind of trade deal the UK concludes with the EU before entering any trade negotiations with Her Majesty’s Government.

The UK is deemed to economically suffer unless it concludes a withdrawal treaty and a trading agreement simultaneously. After the appointment, therefore, the next Prime Minister should invoke Art. 50 TFEU and start negotiating trade deals with the EU. Such a procedure will likely take more than two years, a time span which will be painful unless the UK manages to negotiate a withdrawal treaty and a new trade relationship in parallel.

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