Hello, and welcome to our Referendum
Round-up for our course: Towards Brexit? The UK’s EU Referendum. I’m Anthony Salamone from the University of Edinburgh. As we know, the results are in, and the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union. Thank you for joining us for our Referendum Round-up, our final one in the course. I’m pleased to be joined today by Dr Alan Convery. He’s a Lecturer in Politics at the University of Edinburgh, and specialises in British politics, including Conservative politics, which will be quite important for us today. Thanks once again for sending in your many questions this week and over the other weeks of the course. As usual, we’ll do our best to work through as many of them as we can. Welcome, Alan.
Thank you. Thanks for being here. Let’s start off with a question from Mia,
who asks: I’ve read in the news that a number of people have been petitioning for a second EU referendum, as many people might want to change their mind. How likely is it that this petition, that’s been signed by several million people, be granted or allowed? Well, the petition process in Parliament means that if a petition reaches a certain level, it’s discussed by a committee of MPs and then they decide whether to take it up and whether to have a debate about it in Parliament. In terms of a second referendum through that process - I think is unlikely. The Prime Minister has said he wants to accept the outcome of this referendum.
But there have already been suggestions about how the British people might ratify any new arrangement with the EU. So, Lord Heseltine suggested on Newsnight last night that there would need to be some kind of referendum in which the UK would ratify its new terms of membership. Other people, like Jeremy Hunt, have suggested that that could be done through a general election, in either an early general election or a general election in 2020. So, another referendum asking the same question again - I don’t think so. But, there has been talk about some kind of other process of ratifying whatever the arrangements might be with the EU.
Now, Rob has asked a question about: What is the role of UKIP, now that their main objective was to get the UK out of the EU, where they go from here? Yes, this is an interesting question. I think in the short term, UKIP will want to keep up the pressure on the UK government not to, perhaps, go for some kind of deal with the EU that involves close cooperation with the EU in terms of immigration and other issues. So, perhaps UKIP will want to keep up the pressure in terms of the UK not going for a Norway-style deal of leaving in the European Economic Area and still accepting freedom of movement.
For the longer term for UKIP, I think there’s a question about whether it wants to continue to keep up that pressure in the longer term, as well. And, also, UKIP has tapped into lots of issues beyond Euroscepticism in the UK. So, we know from research into UKIP that, in particular in the North of England, it captures a lot of who we might call ‘old Labour’ voters. So, there’s still, perhaps, a niche for UKIP, perhaps, in terms of people that political scientists have referred to as the ‘left-behinds’ - so, people who feel discombobulated by globalisation and changes in the UK because of immigration and because of changes in culture and things like that.
So, I think there probably will still be a nice for UKIP beyond the EU referendum, but it depends on what’s played out.
This is a follow up to that: Can I ask you, what you think the appeal of UKIP has been and will be in the different parts of the UK? For instance, when we see that, traditionally, UKIP has done better in England and perhaps Wales, maybe less so in Scotland. Do you see that continuing? Yes, absolutely. So, UKIP has done a lot less well in Scotland. It does have one MEP in Scotland, of course, but didn’t do well in the general election in Scotland in 2015, and nor did it do very well at all in the Scottish Parliament elections that we’ve just had. So, its appeal in Scotland’s a lot lower than the rest of the UK.
But, I don’t see any reason why UKIP’s appeal wouldn’t continue to appeal to that certain section of voters that it’s really appealed to. the Eurosceptic UKIP voters, but there’s also another section of UKIP’s support, which is not primarily based - it’s partly based, but not primarily based, on Euroscepticism, and it’s more based on these issues of economic insecurity, cultural upheaval. And, as I say, there’s two political scientists called Rob Ford and Matthew Goodwin have analysed this and called this group of people the ‘left-behinds’. And, I think that that constituency will still be there for UKIP.
I’ve got a question from Christine, who asks: How probable is it that Scotland will have an independence referendum? I presume following differences in the results, and saying Scotland voted by majority to remain in the EU, while the UK as a whole voted to leave? Yes, this is another big question. So, Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants to keep Scotland in the EU and she’s exploring all options. It appears that Nicola Sturgeon’s Plan A is to try and look at some kind of option where Scotland could stay in the EU, but the rest of the United Kingdom could leave. It has to be said that option looks extremely difficult right now.
There’s not really any precedent for it, and it would require a lot of legal and political manoeuvring in order to make that happen. So her Plan B, therefore, is a second independence referendum to keep Scotland in the EU. The problem with that is that Nicola Sturgeon, while she wants to keep Scotland in the EU, she also won’t want to hold a referendum that she’s not fairly certain that she’s going to win. So, we have seen an uptick in support for independence in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum result. But, I think what the SNP will want to do is see whether that support is maintained.
And could it have just been enough a few flash polls in the immediate aftermath of the referendum? They will want to see that that support is maintained before calling a referendum. So, there’s the principled case of keeping Scotland in the EU, but also the more political considerations about - there’s no point in calling a second independence referendum unless you’re fairly certain you’re going to win it. And, what would be the effect on Scots
if you said to them: Do you want to remain in the UK but not the EU, or in the EU and not the UK? And then, just beyond that, if I can go a bit further on that, there’s all sorts of problems this creates for the Scottish National Party. So, there is that perhaps it creates the opportunity to have a second independence referendum. But, it also means we need to completely reformulate some aspects of their prospectus for independence.
So, if we think back to September 2014, a lot of the SNP’s case for independence was based, or underpinned, by the rest of the UK and an independent Scotland both being EU members, in which case you don’t need to worry about negotiating across a border in terms of trade or movement of people. Because both countries, a new independent Scotland and the rest of the UK, both EU members. - which means a lot of this stuff simply goes on automatically. But, that now has to be rethought, and what also has to be rethought - perhaps, as well, is the currency question, which was a big question in that debate.
Is it feasible for Scotland still to have a currency union with the rest of the UK, which is not in the EU, while Scotland is in the EU? And those sorts of questions about trade and currency, I think, need to rethink in terms of putting forward a case for independence. And, as a follow up to that, there was a debate in Holyrood yesterday. Nicola Sturgeon was seeking the support of the Scottish Parliament in carrying forward her negotiations to see what Scotland’s position would be. I think that was passed almost unanimously. What role will that play, having the support of the Scottish Parliament, or seeing the fact that all the parties reunite behind this very carefully-worded resolution, I think?
Yeah, I think that Nicola Sturgeon wanted to try to show that the Scottish Parliament was behind her. She, of course, is traveling to Brussels today. She’s going to meet with the President of the European Commission and with the President of the European Parliament. And, I think it was important for her to show that Scotland was united behind her, or at least that Parliament was in majority support for her strategy of talking to the different EU institutions. But, I have to say, from the moment, I think, the manoeuvring to try and go for that Plan A option of Scotland remaining in the UK and in the EU at the same.
We never say never in terms of the flexibility of EU institutions, and these decisions are inherently political ones, but I think that looks like a difficult option right now, but we’ll have to see what happens.
We’ve got a question from Mark, who asks: What was David Cameron’s strategy in delaying the declaration of Article 50, which would commence the formal process for the UK to leave the EU? Or was there a strategy? Well, I think it’s fair to say that the UK government and Westminster in general have really been quite shell-shocked by this referendum result. And, I think David Cameron’s thinking is that it’s probably not a good idea to go into a two-year period of negotiations, when it’s not actually clear what the UK government wants. So, does the UK government want to leave completely, and simply have some kind of trading arrangement with the EU, similar to what Canada has with the EU?
Or, does it want some kind of model more akin to what Norway has - ie in the European Economic Area, still paying into the budget, still having freedom of movement, but not actually sitting in the EU institutions in that sense? Or, does it want some kind of new, hybrid model? So, Boris Johnson suggests that you can still be in the Single Market, it would appear, and not have to sign up truly to freedom of movement or pay into the EU budget. So, the UK government needs to decide what its Plan A is, in terms of what it absolutely wants, and what its bottom line is in terms of what it will not accept.
And, I think probably David Cameron’s calculation is: it’s probably not a good idea to start the starting gun with those negotiations until it’s clear, with a new prime minister and a new government, exactly what kind of relationship the UK wants to achieve.
I’ve got a question from Isabelle, who asks: If it’s likely that the economy is seriously at risk, would the government overturn the referendum result and not actually leave the EU? There has been some speculation about this. So, Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times this week was writing he doesn’t think Brexit will ever happen. I think - well, in this period of UK politics, you can never say never, and of course, it depends what you mean by ‘Brexit’.
If you consider remaining in the European Economic Area as not fully Brexit, then, of course, Brexit might not happen, because it’s conceivable the UK could end up with some kind of deal in which they remain in the European Economic Area, in which case the status quo. So, it depends how hard your definition of Brexit is. But, it has to be said, that David Cameron
and senior Conservatives have said: we must now accept the result of this referendum, and David Cameron, when pushed on this topic, especially at his news conference in Brussels
yesterday, said: look, I’m a democrat, and we have to accept this decision. And I think Sajid Javid said, we’re all Brexiteers now. So, I think that certainly the intention, at the moment, is to give effect to Brexit. The problem is, before the referendum, nobody fully, concretely defined what Brexit is, and it’s clear that within the Conservative Party, you have people on the lighter side of Brexit, shall we say, like Jeremy Hunt, who’s arguing for a deal more akin to remaining in the European Economic Area. And then, perhaps, harder line people on Brexit who interpret Brexit as meaning something else.
And then, perhaps in the middle, Boris Johnson, who suggests you can continue to have the advantages of the Single Market, and at the same time, has having some unique deal for the UK with the rest of the EU. So, I think it depends. Brexit has a spectrum of options, and the UK hasn’t decided yet which path it’s going to go down. I suppose we should point out that there currently is no country that has any relationship with the EU that has full access to the Single Market in goods and services, but doesn’t have to accept the free movement of people, as well. So, if the UK manages to achieve that, it would certainly be a first.
It would be a unique deal that the EU has not done with a country previously. But, people on the Brexit side of the case would argue that the UK is a unique case in that, also, no country has left before that’s as big as the UK and is as economically, politically, diplomatically important as the UK. So, it may be that the UK will get a unique deal. Anne has asked a question of whether you think the campaign eventually came down just to the issue of immigration? I think immigration was an important issue in the campaign. UK academics have done all sorts of surveys into why people voted the way they did.
We’ve had some initial conclusions from pollsters, but we haven’t had the full conclusions from that yet. But, I think it’s clear that immigration was a big part of the campaign. It was also recognised by David Cameron that immigration was an important issue, because he put that at the centre of his renegotiation with the EU, and a big part of that, which he emphasised, was the idea that the UK, under the deal that he reached, would be able to limit welfare payments to migrant workers coming into the UK. He suggested that this would reduce the pull factor for migrant workers coming from the rest of the EU into the UK.
Brenda has asked: What chance is there that the next PM, or the next leader of the Conservative Party, needs to be someone who campaigned to leave the EU? Could there be anyone campaigned to remain who could become the next prime minister and Tory leader?” I think, again, this is unclear. So, one of the rules that political journalists have been talking about is that the front runner in any Conservative Party leadership election never wins in the end. So they appointed David Cameron, and David Davis was the front runner, and then ended up not winning. I think the parameters of the debate in the Conservative Party are being laid out at the moment.
And, I think what we’ll perhaps see in the Conservative Party leadership election is a spectrum of Brexit options being offered, from something like Jeremy Hunt’s proposal to something that’s more concretely on Brexit, and the Conservative Party will have to have that discussion. But, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the Conservative Party could be led by someone who campaigned to remain in, particular when we consider Theresa May’s entrance into the campaign. So, if she indeed enters into it this week, she was campaigning officially for remaining in the EU, but she did so, some might say, in a more muted fashion than other members of the cabinet, like George Osborne, who was so full-throatedly in favour of Remain.
And the straw polls and the opinion polls that are being done at the moment, one for the Conservative Home website have shown Theresa being really hot on the heels of Boris Johnson in terms of who might be the next Conservative leader. So, I wouldn’t rule out that the next Conservative leader might be something who supported Remain. But the Conservative Party leadership election, I think, will in part be informed by a discussion about exactly what form of Brexit the new prime minister will argue for. We’ve got time for about maybe one, two more questions.
We’ve got a question from Elspeth, who asks: Can the Scottish Government have any leverage to block Brexit from being implemented? So, maybe extend that to the Scottish Parliament and the impact that it might have on devolution, I suppose. Yes, so, this links to something called the Legislative Consent Motion. So, under the devolution arrangements of the UK, there’s a convention that the Westminster Parliament will not legislate on areas of devolved competence without the permission of the devolved parliaments. So, it won’t change something that is a devolved competence of the Scottish Parliament without its permission. And, the way the Scottish Parliament gives that permission is through a Legislative Consent Motion.
Now, how to leave the EU in terms of how you take that bill through the House of Commons and how you untangle the UK from the EU will involve, probably, changing, affecting the aspects of what are considered to be devolved issues for the Scottish Parliament. And, therefore, there will probably need to be some kind of Legislative Consent Motion for the Scottish Parliament to give its permission for the UK Parliament to change aspects in terms of entanglements with the EU that affect the Scottish Parliament and its powers and its competences. Normally, therefore, the UK government would not legislate on changing that unless it had approval through a Legislative Consent Motion.
If the Scottish Parliament, however, were to withhold that Legislative Consent Motion, the Westminster Parliament ultimately remains sovereign, and could argue that this is an issue where it is not devolved, and therefore, they’re going to override or ignore, or in this particular instance, not take into account that the Scottish Parliament had voted against this Legislative Consent Motion. They would also, I think, have an argument for saying we an overwhelming mandate from, not only the English people, but the whole of the UK together. That means that we have a referendum mandate and therefore, in this instance, we’re going to go ahead and leave the EU through the process in the House of Commons.
So, that’s - no veto, but I think there would be questions that would involve the competences of the Scottish Parliament that would require the Scottish Parliament’s permission. But, in the end, the Westminster Parliament would remain sovereign. While you’re here, Alan, just to ask you, how likely do you think it is we’ll be seeing an early general election? So, we have fixed-term parliaments. The next election is not meant to be until the spring of 2020. How likely do you think it is that we’ll see one earlier than that? I don’t like to predict anything. I didn’t like to before, and I don’t expect to like to predict anything, especially in the times we’re living through in the UK right now.
But, of course, it is possible that a new prime minister from the Conservative Party might decide that it’s a good idea, while the Labour Party is going through its own internal difficulties - the Conservative Party has a small majority in the House of Commons - it might be an idea to hold a new election to try and increase that majority and get a new mandate for the new prime minister.
It’s possible. They may also wish to do it in order to ratify the terms of the new arrangement with the EU. Or, they might want to use it in order to ratify or give some kind of legitimacy or support to negotiating the opening negotiating the position of the UK government when it goes to negotiate with the EU. So, there are all sorts of possibilities around having an early election. What do you think the prospect is for the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act to be staying with us?
Because all this implies that either the conditions of the Fixed-Term Parliament will be met, if there were to be an early general election, or that we would be seeing it being amended or perhaps even repealed. How do you see that going forward? Well, they wouldn’t necessarily need to repeal it. There are mechanisms in which they can override it. So that’s not - it’s not necessarily a complete obstacle to having an early general election. But of course, there’s no constitutional need to have an early general election. So, the Parliament term runs until 2020, and there is no constitutional or legal requirement for a general election when you have a new prime minister.
So, Gordon Brown became prime minister in 2007, no general election. 1990, John Major took over from Margaret Thatcher. So, to have an early general election would be a purely political decision. Great. Perfect. Thank you very much, Alan. Thank you. Now, that’s all we’ve got time for today. So thanks, once again, for sending in all your questions. And also, thank you very much for taking part in our course. It has been a very exciting time in British politics, and will be for the future, and also for European politics, as well.
It’s been quite challenging to try to put everything together for the course in such a short period of time, but we hope very much that you’ve enjoyed it, and that you’ll stay tuned for future courses from the University of Edinburgh on FutureLearn. Keep in mind as well that you can continue to get up-to-date analysis from European Futures, and also from the Centre on Constitutional Change. Thanks very much, again. Thanks a lot, Alan. Thanks. Bye. Enjoy the week. Bye.