In the event of a Leave vote Brexit would dominate Westminster for years

big-benLord Lisvane, former Clerk of the House of Commons, discusses the impact that a vote to leave the EU would have on Westminster in the immediate aftermath of the referendum, during Brexit negotiations and once Brexit has actually taken place. The UCL European Institute, together with the UCL Constitution Unit, is holding a special series of seminars on the implications and consequences of Brexit. The first, on 21 April, focused on the consequences for Westminster and Whitehall. In this post, adapted from his comments on the night.

The immediate aftermath

After a vote to leave there will be immediate pressure for debates in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, probably over two days, to be held as soon as possible. There may even be calls for a rare weekend recall, though this is in the Prime Minister’s hands and I think it very unlikely that he would grant one.

David Cameron’s future will, of course, be high on the agenda. He has said that he would stay on as Prime Minister to oversee the consequences of a vote to leave, but there are Conservative MPs who have suggested that he won’t have the opportunity to do that. Might he throw the dice and have a vote of confidence among members of his own party, or would that be too high risk? Continue reading

Six paradoxes of the Brexit debate

Screenshot 2016-03-04 14.14.02The ‘Brexit’ debate has taken off in the UK in the ten days since David Cameron got his new deal at February’s European Council summit, with daily media coverage and social media from both sides swinging into gear. How the debate, and the polls, will evolve over the coming four months is unclear but, Kirsty Hughes explains, so far various paradoxes are emerging.

1. Mainly an intra-government debate

To all appearances, media coverage to date suggests that the Brexit debate is essentially only a debate between two different camps in the Conservative government: a debate between mild eurosceptics in the British cabinet, including the Prime Minister, against a half dozen strong eurosceptics also in the cabinet. Continue reading

Whose dossier is dodgy? Four major errors in Vote Leave’s response

Earlier this week, the UK Government published ‘The process from withdrawing from the European Union’, which aimed to set out what would happen in the case of Brexit. Vote Leave, a cross-party organisation campaigning for Britain to leave the EU, has published a response to this document. In this post, Piet Eeckhout, Professor of EU Law at UCL, highlights four major errors in Vote Leave’s response, and explains the reasons why.

For more on how campaigns for referendums affect public opinion, register for the UCL European Institute’s special event Brexit Divisions on 8 March.

  1. Article 50 Treaty on European Union as the only lawful route to withdraw.

Vote Leave points to the withdrawals of Greenland (which was a partial withdrawal, as Greenland was never a member state), and of Algeria (idem). Those withdrawals took place at a time when the EU Treaties did not have any provisions on withdrawal. These are not precedents, because since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon (2009), there is now an express provision on withdrawal, which regulates the process in substantial detail. The position under EU law is most clear: it is Article 50 which comprehensively governs any withdrawal, and which bars any other routes to withdrawal. There is no doubt in my mind that other EU governments, the EU institutions, and the EU Court of Justice would adopt that position. Continue reading

Neglected issues in the EU Referendum Bill

Credit: Quinn DombrowskiProfessor Richard Rose, Director of the Centre for the Study of Public Policy at the University of Strathclyde, explores unresolved issues in relation to the EU referendum bill, including voting thresholds and prospective timelines of reform and EU negotiations.

 

Will there be a turnout threshold making the referendum decisive?

At the UK’s 2014 European Parliament (EP) election turnout was 35.6 percent and at the 2015 British general election it was 66.2 percent.

Turnout at EU referendums across Europe normally falls between an EP and a national election. This implies a likely UK turnout of around 51 percent. If this occurred, the referendum majority would be little more than one-quarter of the British electorate.

On issues of constitutional importance most democratic countries introduce special requirements to secure broader commitment. In the 1979 referendum on devolution to Scotland endorsement by 40 percent of the registered electorate was required to secure approval. Although a majority approved on a turnout of 63 percent, devolution failed since less than a third of the Scottish electorate approved the Act. Continue reading

Not in front of the MPs: Why can’t Parliament have a frank discussion about the EU?

Collier's_1921_Vol_7_Frontispiece_--_Parliament_Buildings,_LondonIn this post, Agata Gostyńska, research fellow at the Centre for European Reform, explains how Britain’s Parliament does a poor job of examining EU business—and proposes some simple reforms that would improve the way that it scrutinises European legislation.

The British prime minister, David Cameron, wants to make the EU more democratic. National parliamentarians, in his view, understand citizens’ concerns better than MEPs who deliberate in far-away Brussels and Strasbourg; national parliaments should therefore play a greater role in EU decision-making. However, Cameron’s argument would carry more weight if UK parliamentary scrutiny were improved. Continue reading