The people have spoken. On 23 June 2016, 52% of voters in a national referendum made it clear they would like the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. We know what they voted against (EU membership), but what did they actually vote for? Was it a vote to control borders and reduce immigration at any cost (even if it damages the economy)?
What sort of relationship does Britain want with Europe? Should it be an EU-Canada style trade deal, which might hurt economically but would guarantee the greatest degree of sovereignty over borders and laws? Or should it be a closer arrangement, along the lines of Norway, which would help minimise economic disruption at the cost of becoming a “rule taker” of EU laws and regulations?
Some (including the Irish Prime Minister) believe the referendum debate was inadequate. They argue that the “Leave” campaign was too ambiguous about the future relationship it wanted with the EU. The available options (Canada, Norway, Switzerland, WTO) were not spelled out clearly, and people were led to believe they could “have their cake and eat it” instead of making an informed decision about the trade-offs involved. There are even voices arguing that Brexit should be stopped, and not just from British “remoaners”; a group of influential German business leaders recently started lobbying for the UK to change its mind and stay in the EU.
Would such an outcome be anti-democratic? Voters are allowed to change their minds when they vote for a new government, so why can’t they reconsider their Brexit vote? Polling in the UK by YouGov suggests a clear majority (64%) think the British government are handling the Brexit negotiations badly. For several months there has also been a majority (albeit a slim one) who believe that, in hindsight, Britain was wrong to vote for Brexit.
However, we’re not asking “should” Brexit be stopped. We’re asking if it’s even possible. We had a comment from Alex, who wants to know what it will take to “reverse Brexit”. Is that even an option?
We put Alex’s comment to Katarina Barley, Germany’s Family Affairs Minister. She caused controversy earlier in 2017 by suggesting that the UK should hold another referendum on Brexit after the negotiations are concluded. Does she really believe Brexit could be stopped?
Can Brexit be stopped? A majority in Britain voted for a Brexit. Now they also have to deal with the consequences. I think it’s absolutely right for the EU to take a hard line in dealing with Great Britain. We must be clear: there is no better deal [than EU membership]. Everything else would have fatal consequences for Europe.
In an interview, I made myself very unpopular in the British tabloid press. In it, I demanded that the British vote once again on the overall package after the end of the Brexit negotiations. I am sure that the result would be fundamentally different than the first vote. For most people, it’s only just dawning on them the sort of irreparable damage that has been done.
We also spoke to Richard Corbett, a Labour MEP (Note: The interview was originally recorded back in May). What would he say?
This is all very well, but is it legally and politically possible? We had a comment from Rémi who reminds us that the UK is locked into a two-year process with Article 50. When the two years are up then the UK is out (unless there is unanimous agreement to extend the negotiations in the European Council).
To get a response, we spoke to Peter Catterall, a constitutional expert and Professor of History and Policy at the University of Westminster. What would he say?
Is Article 50 revocable? Well, probably, because I think in the end this comes down to politics, not law. We’ve always seen with European law that it’s malleable according to politics. The European Court of Justice has always had a slightly political interpretation of how things operate. If the political will was there to revoke it on the British side – because I don’t think there’s a problem with the political will to revoke it on the other side, whatever the Brexiteers say – then it would no doubt happen. The problem is that there is no political will to do that as yet, partly because even if you look at people in the government who suspect that this is going to be a disastrous outcome (which may well include the Prime Minister herself), they are prisoners of the Right-Wingers in their own party.
Can Brexit be stopped? Can Article 50 be revoked? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!