What Now?

Leave has won and the pound has dropped in value by more than 10%; I am disappointed, but not surprised. Cameron has announced he will step down by October; I should be happy about that, if it were not that I expect that his successor will be even worse. I should be happy that there is now a possibility of a second independence referendum, but at the moment this is outweighed by my concerns as to what will happen if Scotland remains part of the UK under Tory rule, without even the EU to restrain their apparent determination to justify their characterisation as the nasty party.

The news of an impending Brexit has been welcomed by far right groups across the EU, who are now calling for referenda on EU membership in their own countries. EU leaders are concerned that the UK’s defection will cause the disintegration of the EU; they will want the UK to be seen to be worse off outside the EU to deter other countries from leaving, and so they are unlikely to give any favourable trade deals to the UK. Britain will probably not be allowed access to the European single market, whether this done through an outright refusal to negotiate or by setting an unacceptably high price for such access. Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, recently said that “out is out”, while ruling out any further concessions to the UK.

In theory, Brexit is not inevitable as the referendum is not legally binding, and Cameron is apparently going to leave it to his successor to start the two year countdown to Brexit by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. (Once this happens there will be no going back except with the unanimous agreement of all EU members.) A likely successor is Boris Johnson, who may have backed Leave more as a way to challenge Cameron than because of genuine Euro-scepticism. Perhaps he might, as Prime Minister, seek to avoid a Brexit. However, with Juncker ruling out any concessions to the the UK, it would very difficult for Johnson to justify not invoking Article 50 even if he wanted to.

There is another possible way in which Brexit might yet be avoided, if the divisions within the Tory party run deep enough. If, for example, a significant of pro-EU Tory MPs were to defect to the LibDems, the Tories could lose their majority in the Commons, which in turn might provoke a General Election. If Jeremy Corbyn were to become Prime Minister, he could argue that the election of a pro-EU government cancels out the referendum result. Unfortunately, the Tories are likely to patch up their internal feuds enough to hold onto power.

It has been suggested that Article 50 may not be invoked for perhaps a couple of years, to allow more time for negotiations between the UK and the EU prior to Brexit. This appears to be based on the assumption that the EU would be prepared to negotiate a series of trade deals, perhaps similar to those between Switzerland and the EU, to allow the UK continued access to the single market. If what Junckers has said is anything to go by, it is more likely that the EU will give the UK a simple choice – either stay (with no new concessions) or leave completely. Indeed, it has been suggested that if the UK delays the formal invocation of Article 50 too long, while still maintaining its intention to leave the EU, the EU will move to end the uncertainty by expelling the UK or at least putting pressure on the UK to go.

The assumption now must be that Brexit will happen towards the end of 2018. Fortunately, a clear majority of voters in Scotland voted Remain, and so there is a strong moral case for a second independence referendum. With one of Project Fear’s main arguments against independence turned on its head, there is a very good chance of getting the correct result this time. I sincerely hope that Scotland can get out of Westminster’s grip before we suffer too much damage from the impending Brexit and continuing Tory misrule.

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