Brexit Vote Turns One, leaving has never been more uncertain – Dan Roberts | The Guardian UK

As the Brexit Vote Turns One, leaving has never been more uncertain

A year after the UK voted to leave the EU, the way forward is murky and the path to Brexit could turn into slippery slope to NO EXIT

Dan Roberts | The Guardian UK – Brexit Policy Editor

One year on from Britain’s vote to leave the EU, the anniversary of the referendum was overshadowed by fresh outbreaks of doubt.

In Brussels, Theresa May’s farewell offer on EU citizenship was met with a shrug from commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and a chorus of voices urging Britain to stay. In Westminster, her own chancellor, Philip Hammond, is one of many dusting down alternative models of Brexit to soften its impact on a faltering economy.     

British officials in Whitehall have meanwhile had to temper their negotiating strategy after May’s mandate to walk away with no deal was undermined by a humiliating general election result.  

But what are the chances of Brexit 2.0 emerging from a second year of Britain’s post-referendum soul-searching? Has an election in which both main parties still supported departure simply flushed out the last few Remoaners in denial? Or was this the week the wheels started to fall off May’s all-or-nothing exit vehicle?

For scholars with a long view, some messiness is to be expected. In a speech to mark the referendum anniversary, historian Peter Hennessy warned the country was attempting its “greatest geopolitical shift in the world since the winding up of Britain’s territorial empire”.

Rather than taking place over decades, the rules allowed just two years for a “great unbundling of 46 years of accumulated legislation and regulation acquired over what future historians will now see as our aberrational stretch as part of an integrating European community”.

The false certainty of the referendum result is, he argued, inevitably being replaced with the fuzzy reality of a still divided country. “The recent general election was our means of absorbing the outcome of our 2016 eruption of plebiscitary democracy into the promiscuous, free-flowing mainstream of our system of representative democracy,” Prof Hennessy told the British Academy.

Just how free-flowing the British constitution can be is likely to become more apparent as a minority government attempts to steer through parliament the eight giant pieces of Brexit legislation announced in this week’s Queen’s speech. Brexiteers fear opponents will seek to sabotage the process by ignoring constitutional niceties such as the Salisbury convention, which in theory discourages the House of Lords from obstructing anything explicitly promised in a government’s election manifesto.

Critics of Brexit, meanwhile, are hoping the government will uphold another unwritten rule known as the Sewell convention – which requires the assent of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies in matters that affect their devolved powers. Since losing a high court challenge on article 50, the Edinburgh parliament is unlikely to wield a veto over Brexit entirely, but it could yet choose to frustrate the process of leaving the single market.

During the Queen’s speech debate, the prime minister conceded that her Brexit legislation may require just such a legislative consent motion (LCM). Any attempt to wriggle out will be further ammunition for critics who say her proposed Brexit legislation is already an abuse of crown prerogative rarely attempted since the English civil war.

“By any standards, some of the Brexit legislation would normally require LCMs,” said Sir David Edward, a former judge on the European court of justice and an expert on Scottish law. “But you never know what the intelligentsia of the Tory party may deem to be within their exclusive competences. After all, they want power to amend primary legislation by executive order. Charles I is not dead yet!”

For European optimists, the recent general election points not just towards a revival of parliamentary sovereignty but the possibility of counter-revolution.

The EU council president, Donald Tusk, was pressed to explain his decision to quote from John Lennon’s Imagine when asked if Brexit might be reversed. “Politics without dreams would be a nightmare … miracles do happen,” insisted the former Polish prime minister. “The best part of politics is that everything is possible.”

But other observers are in a less forgiving mood, especially after a week in which, one thinktank said, “like an embarrassing drunk at a party, the UK lurched towards the exit”.

“The Brits do not have a single negotiator of stature in their ranks,” added the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s London correspondent Christian Zaschke. “If it weren’t so serious, the situation in Great Britain would almost be comical.” Der Spiegel even claimed that “following the most recent election, Brexit is defunct”.

In other circumstances, such talk could be put down to sour grapes on the continent, but in the bars of Westminster, anonymous voices are also beginning to contemplate the unthinkable.

“This country is fucked,” a senior Tory reportedly told Politico. “We are tethered to the mast of Brexit and when it goes wrong we’re screwed. They all know it. All Labour have to do is hedge their bets. When the public realise they have been sold a pup they will turn on the party.”

And philosopher Alain De Botton was told to expect further climbdown. It could, he said, see the country stay in the European Economic Area in exchange for reform, not revolution, on the vexed question of free movement of people. “Cabinet minister tells me Conservatives ready to accept EEA with 5-year immigration brake. Will be offered after German elections,” he tweeted.

The problem – as both Brexiteers and Remainers unite in pointing out – is that once you start contemplating the need for a transition that is both half in and half out of Europe, the arguments in favour of staying-put quickly mount. The lengthy transition phase desired by Hammond and others would retain many of the economic benefits of EU membership but with even less of the political freedoms said to motivate voters than the country enjoys now.

The path from hard Brexit to soft Brexit could become a slippery slope to no Brexit.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On June 27, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    Brexit will Cement Disenfranchisement of Millions of Citizens

    Democracy will be poorer with millions of long-term residents who have no power at the ballot box to influence national government

    Alan Travis | The Guardian UK – Home Affairs Editor

    Brexit Britain will be home to 3 million second-class European Union “settled citizens” who have been fingerprinted, registered and issued with a residence identity document and with no vote in general elections.

    That is the “between the lines” message of the British government’s offer on EU citizens’ rights after Brexit.

    The 3 million EU nationals will be joining the ranks of at least 1 million foreign nationals from outside the EU with “indefinite leave to remain” status who already form a largely invisible disenfranchised subclass in Britain.

    The fact is that Brexit is going to change the face of Britain in ways that perhaps were not fully debated during the referendum campaign.

    At heart, the EU citizens’ rights package means that once again, for the first time in 40 years, foreigners start at Calais.

    The mandatory requirement for every EU national who has lived in Britain for five years to apply for “settled status” and to register for a “residence document” amounts essentially to an ID card system.

    It doesn’t necessarily need literally to be an identity card, although that is a possibility being considered. It could just be an entry on a Home Office database if that is built in time.

    But whatever form this new residence permit finally takes, settled EU nationals will need to produce it if they are to get a job, to use the health service, rent private accommodation, open a bank account or apply for a driving licence.

    The current biometric residence card for non-EU nationals looks remarkably like an identity card. It has a photograph on it. It is plastic debit card-sized. It includes a chip with the holder’s digital photographs and fingerprints. It doesn’t have to be carried all the time but must be produced alongside a passport when entering and leaving Britain and accessing public services and jobs.

    This discussion of a possible ID card scheme for EU nationals makes for uncomfortable reading for the Brexit secretary, David Davis, who made his principled fight against Labour’s ID card schemes a central part of his political career even to the extent of resigning to fight a 2008 by-election on the single issue of the erosion of civil liberties.

    Davis insisted on Monday that the proposed mandatory registration of EU nationals after Brexit did not amount to an ID card scheme because they won’t have to carry them around all the time.

    “It is not an ID card. We are talking about documentation to prove that people have the right to a job and the right to residence, but they will not have to carry that around all the time. It is not an ID card; it is rather like your birth certificate. It’s not an ID card. Good heavens!” he told MPs.

    But then, Labour’s ID schemes were never going to give the police the power to demand “papers please” either.

    When the 2008 Davis resigned as shadow home secretary in protest at the growth of the “database state” under Gordon Brown he presciently observed:

    “It is typical of this government to kick-start their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”

    The 2017 Davis resists this interpretation and might point to the fact that many British citizens living in European countries already have to register for residents’ cards. But that is because ID cards are used across the board in nearly all EU countries with the UK, Ireland and Denmark the notable exceptions.

    But it is not just a further step down the road towards a database state that is involved here. EU nationals may currently have the right to vote in local elections but they have not had the right to take part in general elections.

    The UK offer cements that disenfranchisement for the future. It means that together with those non-EU foreign nationals without the right to vote in Westminster elections, Britain now has a large section of its adult population numbering more than 4 million who are long-term residents but have no power at the ballot box to influence the national government.

    It is true that Irish nationals and Commonwealth citizens do have the right to vote for an MP – but to have such a large group of disenfranchised citizens with a stake in the country is not good for Britain’s democracy.

    It could be argued that they could easily resolve the situation by taking out British citizenship. That is true – except that there are 10 EU countries, including Poland, who do not allow their citizens dual nationality. For the largest group of EU nationals with “settled status” in Britain that would mean giving up their Polish passport.

    Insisting that they all become British citizens could also jeopardise the position of Britons in Spain. Spain does not allow dual nationality, except for its former Latin American colonies, and so could easily insist that retired Britons on the Costas give up their British passports if they want to stay.

    Brexit is going to mean that Britain is going to change fundamentally in ways that few envisaged at the time of the referendum, including even the Brexit secretary.

  • Clyde Duncan  On June 28, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    What if the Will of the People is now for a Second Referendum on Brexit?

    Karan Bilimoria | The Guardian UK

    Britain’s weakness outside the EU is clear, and public opinion has swung sharply against Theresa May’s approach. Don’t think there is no turning back

    The UK is in turmoil.

    Sixteen months ago, when David Cameron announced the date of the EU referendum, we were the fastest growing economy in the western world and the envy of Europe.

    The Brexiteers were convinced that Europe was on its way to ruin. Now Britain is becoming the laughing stock of Europe.

    The pound has weakened. Inflation is six times higher than the 0.5% it was a year ago. Today, inflation is 2.9% and wage growth is 1.7%. Europe is growing faster than Britain.

    And the prime minister, Theresa May, who has suffered heavy defeats in the House of Lords and in the general election that she chose to call, has not listened to parliament, business or the people.

    She has been compared to Margaret Thatcher, the lady who was “not for turning”.

    Yet Theresa May has U-turned time after time, be it on national insurance for the self-employed, the promise that there would be no election before 2020, and even on social care measures in the manifesto. The prime minister does not just U-turn: she pirouettes more than Darcey Bussell.

    Our trade negotiators show startling naïvety as they enter into what they describe as “high-level dialogues”.

    It took the Canadians eight years to secure an EU-Canada free trade agreement, but even Canada’s lead trade negotiator, Jason Langrish, has warned that no mutually beneficial deal can be reached.

    Trade already makes up 65% of our GDP. There are few more open trading economies than the UK.

    We are the third highest recipient of foreign direct investment in the world, and the highest recipient of foreign direct investment in the EU.

    To leave the EU would be to leave 50% of our trade – 45% of our exports and 55% of our imports.

    We are also negotiating against all the odds. We are one country against 27.

    We are 65 million whereas the rest number 500 million. We are up against the European commission, the European parliament, the European council; and we have a weak minority government.

    Liam Fox, our illustrious trade minister, speaks of “going global” and opening up to the new world.

    The Indian High Commissioner in London, YK Sinha, has said very clearly that India is open to a bilateral trade deal – but there will be no trade deal without looking at the movement of people.

    Refusing to listen to the UK’s world-class universities, let alone our partners in India and elsewhere who demand stronger ties between our world-beating universities and theirs, the prime minister still treats students as immigrants in net migration figures.

    Yet international students bring £25bn into the UK, and are one of the strongest forms of soft power in the country.

    Just look at the realities of a country such as India, with 1.25 billion people. How many bilateral trade deals does India have with the rest of the world? Nine – and not one with a western country.

    Most of all, Britain is losing its standing and respect in the global community.

    Our weakness outside the EU has never been clearer.

    Now, as many as 53% of the British public back a second referendum, according to a poll by Survation for the Mail on Sunday.

    Public opinion is very much against the prime minister’s Brexit approach, and if there were a free vote in the House of Commons, 44% would be in favour of remain, not to mention that 70% of the members of the House of Lords are in favour of remain.

    We have been told to respect the will of the people, but don’t think there is no turning back.

    Young people, who turned out in vast numbers in the general election, could easily sway the result of another referendum in 2019, if that were put on the table.

    John Kerr (now Lord Kerr), who wrote article 50, has said time and again that we can unilaterally withdraw.

    Prior to triggering article 50, we had the best of both worlds. Even now the EU, including the French president, Emmanuel Macron, would welcome us back.

    If that is the will of the people in 2019, that must be respected.

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