Legitimizing the Referendum and Brexit

by George Hatjoullis

Brexit is about to be legitimized and, ironically, it is a result of actions by opponents of Brexit. Tomorrow the Supreme Court will rule on the legitimate invocation of article 50. It will most likely uphold the High Court ruling and require Theresa May to put it to parliament. The result of putting it to parliament however seems inevitable. It will vote to trigger article 50. This will legitimize the referendum and Brexit. Parliament will have taken the advice of the referendum. Parliament is sovereign and thus Brexit is legitimate.

The wild card is Jeremy Corbyn. It is clear that he intends to signal to the Parliamentary Labour Party that they should vote to invoke article 50. It would take a three-line whip against invoking and many Tory rebels, to avoid triggering article 50 and thus reject the advice. Corbyn has made this impossible. Party political considerations in both the Labour and Conservative Party has dominated the constitutional decision to Leave or Remain in the EU. This is tragic. At this juncture the Remain camp must hope the Supreme Court overturns the High Court and that Theresa May does not have the wit to put the vote to Parliament in any event, but chooses to use the Royal Prerogative. This will leave open a later challenge and reversal of the notification to leave. If parliament votes to invoke then challenging the decision at a later stage will be very difficult. Brexit is about to become inevitable and hard.

The origins of the problem are rooted in a decision by Tony Blair not to accept the option to restrict migration from newly adopted EU states. All UK political parties supported an expansion of the EU (except UKip). The problem was compounded by Germany’s inappropriate response to the eurozone crisis. This generated unprecedented levels of unemployment in some EU states and the people naturally gravitated to states that were generating employment opportunities. The image of refugees flooding into Greece and Italy has added fuel to an already vigorous blaze.The UK has been a net beneficiary from migration in terms of total GDP. Unfortunately, the costs and benefits of migration were not equally distributed and this enabled populists politicians, whose only agenda is power, to manipulate the natural xenophobia present in all populations and bring about the Brexit that parliament, thanks to Corbyn, is about to legitimize.

The LibDems have made a big show of opposing Brexit and many like myself have joined. Strictly speaking I have rejoined. The traditional LibDem membership is not all it seems. A YouGov poll that asked the question whether immigration rules should be tightened found that 58% of LibDem voters thought they should be. The equivalent figure for Labour was only 54%. Go figure! The situation is that we now face the prospect of losing fit young Europeans in employment and paying tax, and not needing the NHS as a result of being young, in exchange for old age pensioners living in the EU that will require much care and attention from the NHS. So much for Brexit helping the NHS.

The loss of access to the single market, once it occurs, will be a huge economic shock. It is a unique arrangement and cannot be replicated. There are also transition costs. The saddest fact though is that Brexit may do little for actual migrant numbers. The countries that have been touted as alternative trading partners all present easier migrant access rules as a condition for freer trade. And the US now has a President that has made the chilling slogan ‘America First’ his policy. What kind of trade deal do we expect to get from this US President? Xenophobia is expensive and ultimately pointless.