Dealing with Brexit

There are perhaps 16 million people who voted Remain and are now very unhappy at the decision to leave the EU. Feelings are so strong there are calls for a second referendum – 3 million signing a petition for a 2nd referendum.

However, if the initial referendum was over-turned, you would have 17 million very unhappy and angry Leave voters, who would feel democracy and their voice was betrayed. And if Remain won the second referendum, you could easily make a case for ‘best of three’ – Though once you have a taste for referendums perhaps they could be run simultaneously with referendums on Yorkshire Independence and whether the English football team should permanently retire from major international competitions.

I like divisive, painful referendums as much as the next economist, but you can have too much of direct democracy.

I think the referendum was a bad idea (I believe in Parliamentary democracy) and I really want to stay in EU. As the economy struggles in the next few months, the cost of leaving the EU may seem increasingly high. But, the political cost of ignoring the initial ‘once in a lifetime’ referendum would also be very high.

Also, once you’ve started to burn your bridges in Europe, you cannot just expect everything to go back to normal. We may already have passed the point of no return, even if we haven’t started Article 50. In Europe’s mind we have left, and it feels pretty definitive.

For all the faults of the EU referendum campaign it was an exercise in democracy. Democracy may have limitations – lack of impartial evidence, false promises, voters not turning up, not being informed e.t.c. But, we had a referendum and we made a choice. The young may feel betrayed with 74% of 18-24 year olds voting to remain, but the other side of the coin is the young had the lowest turnout. The EU referendum may prove a painful lesson to the costs of political apathy.


The only thing I would say is that you could make a case for saying the UK should vote (either in referendum or general election) on the deal politicians bring back. Because the Brexit deal the UK gets because is likely to be very different to what people were promised or expected would happen.

In a simplified form, the UK will be trying to get either:

  1. Stay in Single Market (EEA) like Norway. Pay money to EU, free movement of labour, free trade. (For most people underinterested in petty EU regulations – Not actually that much change to current situation)
  2. Leave Single Market. Pay no money to EU, UK has own immigration policy, tariffs and a kind of isolation from Europe.
  3. 3rd option. UK gets everything it wants. Own immigration policy, free trade, no payment to EU. The problem is this really will not happen.

My feeling is that, if the UK does enter a recession as a result of Brexit uncertainty, the ‘courage’ to leave the Single Market becomes increasingly unlikely and difficult. Already Boris Johnson is talking of staying in the Single Market, though it simultaneously is pretending to (himself and / or others) the UK can have it’s own immigration policy.

But, unless the UK does leave the Single Market to have its own immigration policy, the majority of Leave voters will feel betrayed. Because that’s why they voted Brexit.

Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way out. But, I feel the decision has been made.

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4 thoughts on “Dealing with Brexit”

  1. “For all the faults of the EU referendum campaign it was an exercise in democracy. […] we had a referendum and we made a choice.”

    Not exactly. A referendum does not carry legal force, so it does not make sense to refer to the outcome as a ‘choice’. Referenda are merely advisory tools, and there are no interpretive rules. It would be perfectly legitimate for any executive to say (as I think they should) that a vote of 52% in favour is simply not a strong enough majority to justify a constitutional change as momentous as pulling out of the EU.

    The entrenchment of constitutional provisions is common and proper. E.g. amendments to the U.S. Constitution require supermajorities to pass. The complicating factor for the UK constitution is the principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty: Parliament can legislate on whatever it wants (including constitutional changes) and it can do so by normal bill-passing conventions i.e. a simple majority in both Houses plus Royal Assent. It’s not a great system. Still, doesn’t change the fact that referendum results are not, and should not, binding on our politicians.

    • Agree, but it was politicians who said they would follow the outcome of this referendum. In earlier 1970s EU referendum gov’t did mention it was ‘only advisory’. If government has pointed legal case and said a close run referendum was ‘only advisory’ they may have been able to block in parliament. But, after saying they will follow referendum result, it would be quite something to go against popular vote.

      • Agreed, it would be; I suppose the question is whether that is a price worth paying.

        For my money, I think the right course now would be to hold another general election (since the current Conservative government was not elected on a mandate to leave the EU) and for the parties to campaign with this issue at the forefront of their manifestoes: stay in the EU, or leave the EU, and if the latter what kind of settlement they would pursue.

        I get the feeling most voters have now a much better idea about what the consequences of Brexit are likely to be, so the result of this election would likely be a more accurate gauge of democratic will (ignoring for the moment the inherent problems with the FPTP voting system).

        • yes, though I think it now unlikely Boris of future Tory leader would now dare risk a general election, knowing that by end of year more of the electorate may start to regret Brexit as implications become more apparent. Not withstanding the temptation to have an election with Labour in turmoil.


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