Never before has our country been so polarised.
In the early hours of Friday morning, the UK voted to leave the EU. Almost half of the country celebrated, almost half were distraught and many in the middle wondered if their vote against the EU was a mistake. Now that the dust is starting to settle, people are wondering what this really means for them and how we should proceed.
Amidst the pound crashing, the FTSE 100 dipping and global concern, David Cameron announced his resignation as Prime Minister and that he would leave the invocation of Article 50 for his successor. This was a smart move - giving markets the best opportunity to stabilise over the summer, emotions could cool and negotiations could begin to discuss what a Brexit might actually entail.
One of the major difficulties in considering what leaving the EU might look like is the lack of precedent. Greenland and Algeria have both exited the EU, in 1984 and 1962 respectively, but the EU was a very different union at the time. Along with the obvious difficulties in extricating ourselves from the EU, there are myriad issues purporting to our own Union, with Scotland demanding a second independence referendum and the obvious difficulties in managing Brexit given the relation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Once the Brexit package is more clear, I believe the terms of the package should be put to the British people and we should have a second and final referendum.
Questions have been raised about how and when a Brexit could occur. The most likely occurrence is for the British Government to trigger Article 50. This is the exit clause which would start the two-year period during which the "divorce" could be negotiated and terms could be agreed.
The clause is quite clear. Only the British Government can trigger this exit from the EU - we cannot be forced out. Despite pressure from senior EU officials, the UK could hypothetically wait years to trigger Article 50 - particularly useful given the scale of the negotiations that will be required. Whilst Merkel has claimed that informal negotiations are not a possibility, the balance of power lies with the UK and it is highly likely that this is simply political posturing.
Since the Referendum results were announced, the second most searched term on Google has been "What is the EU" and social media has been filled with reports of many Leave voters questioning their vote. As evidenced by live interviews with shocked leave voters after the result was announced, many believed that theirs was a protest vote given the unlikelihood of the Leave campaign winning. In addition, media appearances by leading Leave campaigners has shown clearly that, while there are several credible positions for Britain outside the EU, it is unlikely to be possible to address all the concerns raised in the campaign - people should be able to vote again once they have all of the details.
In light of this and the magnitude of the repercussions from the UK leaving the EU, I would champion a second referendum next summer. The difference is that this referendum should not simply be offering a simple "Stay with the status quo" or "Leave without knowing what you're leaving for" - instead, this referendum would offer the British public a very clear choice. The British public deserve to know what they are really voting for. After a year of negotiations, I strongly believe that we will have a much clearer view of what leaving the EU will look like - economically, socially and politically.
I hope that both campaigns would conduct themselves with dignity. The first referendum was a real opportunity for democracy to flourish. Instead, people were confused with manipulated figures, fearmongering and outright lies. The British public deserve better than this. Any choice made should be made objectively and with the honest information before them.
This would ensure a democratic process whereby people's votes would actually count and the British public would be making a more informed choice about our future inside, or outside of the EU. Whilst this would lead to a year of uncertainty, this would be a preferable choice to the alternatives of ignoring the referendum or of triggering Article 50 too hastily.
As a nation, we have spoken - people's dissatisfaction with Brussels has been made clear and we need to respect the outcome of the referendum. Offering a second referendum immediately, where we simply ask the same question would simply act to undermine democracy and validate many people's belief that politicians do not listen to them.
Due to the uncertainty of what an exit package would look like, I believe that it would be reckless for a Brexit to take place without British people having more clarity and a greater understanding of what it entails and having the opportunity to vote on the specifics of the deal. In other nations where referendums are used to decide how to proceed such as in the US, Switzerland and Greece, referendums are on specific propositions rather than uncertain generalities. In stark contrast to this, the British people were offered a choice with almost no certainty and it would be unwise to take action immediately on the basis of a huge unknown.
Given the high levels of dissatisfaction both within the UK and other member states, there is a real chance that the results of our referendum could be a force for good. As a significant financial contributor to the EU budget, other member states would not and should not take Brexit lightly. The UK was, is and shall continue to be a significant trade partner for the EU and there would be severe implications to the economies of other member states if Britain is denied access to the single market.
We have the chance to leverage the results of the referendum and this could lead to a more efficient and reformed EU. By offering a second referendum next year, we will have truly done everything in our power to lead to change within the EU and to offer the British public a chance to make an informed decision. As we will have at least one leadership election and possibly a General Election in the coming months, delaying the triggering of Article 50 would be a smart move. We would be allowing the political environment to settle whilst offering a clearer path towards, or away from our membership of the EU and this should help notoriously jumpy financial markets to settle.
We have a real opportunity to reform the EU and to ensure that democracy works to serve the people it is meant to, so long as we are courageous enough to face our uncertain future.
Article 50 is the final weapon in our battle to reform the EU - and one I hope we never have to use.
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