It's June 24th. Terrorists are celebrating across the world, Germany has just invaded Belgium (again), and British families suddenly find themselves £4,300 out of pocket... Britain has voted to leave the European Union.
Okay so maybe the response wouldn't be that extreme, but the stakes of the upcoming EU referendum are high.
The referendum campaign has been raging for what seems like an eternity and now, finally, we are drawing in on polling day. And yet, it's still very unclear what would happen if we vote to leave the EU. The truth is that there is no universally agreed 'exit plan', so what are the options?
In reality, nothing would change on June 24th. We would still be members of the European Union. Although it is unthinkable that the government would go against the results of a referendum, nowhere in our (unwritten) constitution does it stipulate that a referendum is binding on parliament. In the UK, unlike most countries, legal sovereignty lies solely with parliament. This means that no matter which way we vote, it would take an Act of Parliament before our membership of the EU comes into question.
This Act would invoke Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union, the mechanism for notifying the European Council that we are leaving. This is Britain's glorious independence day, when we free ourselves from the shackles of Brussels. Either that or it is when we are cast off into the Atlantic, shoved to the back of the queue in global negotiations, becoming an irrelevant little island obsessed with it's former imperial glory...
But hang about, we still haven't left the EU yet. The EU treaties would still apply to the UK until 2 years after giving notice. At this point we set our relationship status to 'it's complicated' and try to divide up the record collection. This is the part people are worked up about. How will we negotiate our exit? What happens to our relationship with the EU when the 2 year waiting period is over?
The decisions to be made once we vote to leave are still pretty big. For a start, we'd have to spend the two year waiting period negotiating a deal similar to that of Switzerland or Norway. This is actually a far more important choice than faces us at the ballot box on 23rd June. MPs have already said that they are considering using their majority to keep us in the Single Market, meaning we would still pay into the EU budget and have open borders, much like Norway does now.
One MP said "We would accept the mandate of the people to leave the EU."
"But everything after that is negotiable and parliament would have its say. The terms on which we leave are entirely within my remit as a parliamentarian and that is something for me to take a view on."
All of the big decisions will be made long after the referendum. Decisions about trade, economics, immigration and sovereignty.
Of course, the 2015 general election manifestos did not include plans for a Britain out of Europe, nobody knows how MPs or the government would tackle this almighty task. Not to mention the fact that David Cameron would be 'toast within days' in the event of a Leave vote. The most likely scenario is Boris Johnson or Michael Gove negotiating our Brexit. An uncomfortable prospect.
The only way to grant a mandate for the government to pursue an 'exit plan' would be an election. In the event of a Leave vote, this issue will dominate our politics for many years to come. An election would provide the opportunity for parties to set out their vision for Britain out of Europe and allow the public to choose.
This election must also use Proportional Representation (PR). In the aftermath of the referendum, Britain will be divided. Split roughly down the middle, according to polls, half of the population will be p****d off if we vote to leave. The only way to reconcile our differences is an electoral system where every voter has a stake in the result.
The 2015 General Election was the most disproportionate in UK history. First Past the Post (FPTP) meant that 74% of votes were 'wasted' and had no effect on the election result. One party needed only 23,000 votes to win a seat, while another needed almost 4 million. FPTP also meant that more than half of MPs were elected by a minority of the voters in their constituencies. Only 24% of the electorate voted for the party that now has complete executive control in government. If this were to happen again in a post referendum election, it would further divide the country and leave millions feeling shut out of the democratic process.
Our voting system is broken. Up to 74% of the public support electoral reform and politicians, organisations and public figures from across the political spectrum have joined the Alliance to Make Votes Matter, backing a voting system that ensures:
- That those who are entitled to vote have a vote that counts, and counts equally - no matter who they vote for, or where they live;
- That the share of seats a party gets should closely reflect the share of votes the people give them.
As David Cameron has said, every vote in a referendum "counts the same". Surely it is time to apply this to general elections too?
In the event of a 'Leave' vote, Britain would be divided, with a new Prime Minister, a surge in political awareness, and big questions to be answered about our future out of the EU. The only way for the country to move on from this divisive referendum, and grant democratic legitimacy to those negotiating Brexit, would be to hold a proportional general election as soon as possible after the result.
If they fail to do this, the unrepresented majority will be left dissatisfied. A change to PR is inevitable, it's only a matter of time.
Whatever happens in the referendum you can help improve our democracy and bring about the change to PR: Join the campaign to Make Votes Matter.