EU Referendum: Unfinished business?

Jon Danzig |

EU Referendum: Unfinished business

Just five weeks ago, UKIP leader Nigel Farage, anticipating a close-finish in the EU referendum, told The Mirror, “In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way.”

In those circumstances, said Mr Farage, pressure would grow for a re-run of the 23 June ballot, and he would fight for a second referendum.

Well, the result yesterday was exactly 52%-48%. But of course, Mr Farage isn’t fighting for a second referendum, because it was his side that narrowly won.

But as the nation is so evenly split in two, there are now many calling for a second referendum, just as Mr Farage said he would with the same split.

Although the country as a whole voted 52-48 in favour of Leave, there are regional and national differences in that vote.

For example, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the UK’s capital, London, voted strongly in favour of remaining in the EU.

In Scotland a large majority of 62% voted for Remain, in Northern Ireland 55% and in London 60%, with some London boroughs as high as 70%.

It is now possible that Scotland will seek another referendum on their independence from the UK, no doubt so they can reapply to join the EU. That might be something Northern Ireland could also consider.

In many cities of Britain, the referendum result was practically a tie. Such as in Britain’s second largest city, Birmingham, where the voters were evenly divided 50% – 50%.

But some other towns were strongly in favour of Leave, with for example 70% of the voters in Hartlepool opting for Leave.

A split of 52-48 in favour of Leave across the country as a whole has caused deep despair and frustration for many Remain voters, just as it would have done for Leave voters if the situation had been reversed (as clearly Mr Farage thought it might be).

A more decisive referendum result, with a much larger margin, would have seemed more convincing, and possibly less bruising for almost half of the country.

In other nations, changes to a constitution – which could be considered to be akin to leaving the EU – require somewhat more than a simple majority.

In Australia, for example, a referendum is only passed if it is approved by a majority of voters in a majority of states, and by a majority of voters across the nation. This is known as a ‘double majority’.

Since Brexiteers are now wanting to import an Australian style points-system for all migrants, how would yesterday’s referendum have fared if we had imported Australia’s ‘double majority’ system?

Of course, we cannot back-date the procedure adopted for yesterday’s referendum. And it was a democratic decision of the electorate, even though wafer thin, and so no doubt it has to be accepted in good grace.

However, nothing is set in stone. Unlike most modern states, Britain doesn’t have a codified constitution. It’s up to Parliament to lead the way.

As the country is painfully split right down the middle on this issue, there could be a strong argument to hold a second referendum on whether Britain agrees with the terms of the eventual EU divorce.

There is nothing stopping Parliament offering this option if it is the will of our lawmakers.

Commented EU law expert, Professor Steve Peers of Essex University, “The government could offer people a choice between staying in the EU and accepting the terms of departure, once we know what those are.”

And since Nigel Farage said he would himself call for a second referendum if the result was 52-48, he can hardly have any grounds for complaint if this is actually what happens. We should keep reminding him of this.

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