UK Can Still Exit Brexit
Many international friends of Great Britain hope that after 43 years of EU membership, some democratically legitimate way to reverse the consultative Brexit vote result taken last June 23 can be found, presumably through a new binding referendum. Some of the 17 million who voted for Brexit appear to have had second thoughts; an online petition calling for a second vote has more than three million signatories.
David Vines, a professor of economics at Oxford, has a four-part action plan for those who would like to see the stay option remain open. He says the June vote was mostly a vote against economic policy in which inequality of outcomes and opportunity widened radically.
Vines thinks austerity since 2008 “inflicted significant costs on those who are not well-off, while the rich got off scot-free. Concentration of opportunity in London and labour market deregulation hit the less well-off hard. They had to compete with skilled and entrepreneurial migrants from Eastern Europe. The Leave vote was a consequence of this fact.” His four points are as follows.
The U.K. needs a “New Deal” in macroeconomic policy akin to President Roosevelt’s New Deal of 1933. In 1945, the U.K. Labour government offered a similar program around the Beveridge Welfare State and National Health. An example of what could be done now is a second divided highway connecting Scotland with England.
Impose Restrictions on Movement of Labour
Changing the treatment of migration might make it possible to avoid a conflict with the EU’s principle of the free movement of labour. Citizens of EU countries are entitled to look for a job in another EU country, work there without needing a work permit, reside there for that purpose, stay there even after employment has finished, and enjoy equal treatment with nationals in access to employment, working conditions, and other social and tax advantages.
A safeguard clause in the treaty authorizes a member state to re-introduce restrictions on the free movement of labour in the context of a “serious labour market disturbance.” This serves to move the principle of freedom of movement from an absolute right to a conditional right, dependent on particular circumstances.
Many in Europe are already considering how this might be done, including changes in the kinds of exemptions described above or through labour market regulations. Visa-free travel and fast passport lines will remain for the movement of persons, but for Vines, automatic rights to work and settle will be constrained. Likewise, he thinks that control over welfare and benefits, the provision of health services, and the issue of asylum will all end up being partly returned to national control.
Understand the Needs of European Partners
A German passion for implementing rules, coupled with a French determination to centralize power in Brussels, has led to an increasingly disagreeable political process within Europe, and to dwindling support for the European Project. This puts at risk the continued cooperation within Europe not just on economic issues, but also foreign policy, judicial issues, and security and defence. Cooperation has been painstakingly created over 75 years and is now at risk.
Much effort will be necessary to create a European monetary union that works properly and will prevent the EU’s Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) from collapsing. That will require Europe to find a banking union, a form of fiscal insurance, and a new set of rules for macroeconomic policy-making, which taken together, would adequately spread throughout the eurozone the costs EMU membership currently imposes on countries in the southern European periphery.
Achieve Better Outcomes While Remaining Within the EU
Any Brexit negotiations will point toward an outcome that makes the U.K. very much worse than it is now. It seems unlikely that having decided to leave the EU, the U.K. would want to get into a free trade agreement with no free labour mobility. Those in the centre of British politics, and those in the British Civil Service, now need to develop a set of plans for the kind of negotiated outcome they would like which could keep the U.K. within the EU and give a better outcome than leaving.
Vines also think that any such plans will need to respect the objectives of those who voted to leave.
The U.K. government recently used Article 50 to trigger the Brexit process. The author of Article 50, Lord Kerr, has since indicated that once the British people see the terms of their exit they can reverse their government’s triggering of it.
There are EU precedents for holding second votes. Irish voters in mid-2008 turned down the Treaty of Lisbon of the EU, but approved it in a second referendum in late 2009. Danish voters initially rejected the Maastricht Treaty and then reversed their decision.
A House of Lords report made since last June stressed that the assemblies of Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales must each approve any departure of Britain from the EU. Scots voted emphatically to remain in the EU by 62 percent to 38 percent. Nicola Sturgeon and her governing Scottish National Party in Edinburgh have called for a second referendum. One post-June 23 opinion survey indicated that 59 percent of Scots would opt for independence if such a vote were held now.
David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chretien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Africa and Latin America) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”