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British Politics 101: Take nothing for granted


By Owei Lakemfa

The world, or better still, Europe is still in shock. This accounts for the confused and sometimes incoherent reactions to the Thursday, June 23, democratic decision by the United Kingdom to exit the European Union (EU). The Union was expected to grow, not shrink! From six countries in 1958, it had grown to 28 by July 1, 2013 when Croatia was admitted. Even now, a country like Turkey, is ready to give an arm to be admitted. So it was a rude shock for the UK to exit such a prestigious club. That decision which came despite the British establishment, most European countries, the United States and many international agencies opposing it, sent shock waves around the world. Almost everything that seems to have gone wrong in the world in the last one week, is ascribed to the exit. The pound taking an initial pounding, oil shedding over a dollar, and even the Nigerian Stock Exchange which has been battered over months, blamed the exit for its loses this week.
Anger, confusion and revenge seemed to reign. Prime Minister David Cameron tendered his resignation within a day, only agreeing to stay on until his successor is picked by September 2. An obviously upset German Chancellor, Angela Merkel rejected informal talks with bad boy UK preparatory to formal withdrawal. Perhaps fearing a domino effect, the EU is pushing for a quick British withdrawal. In a joint statement by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk, European Parliament President Martin Schulz, and Dutch PM Mark Rutte, the EU said: “We now expect the United Kingdom government to give effect to this decision of the British people as soon as possible, however painful that process may be. Any delay would unnecessarily prolong uncertainty.”
For a marriage that has lasted 43 years, the refusal for initial separation, leading to a thought-out divorce, has all the markings of a process that may be bitterly fought, with bruises to the bargain.
An indication that the divorce proceedings may be messy was enacted on the floor of the EU Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday when Juncker welcomed the pro-Brexit UKIP leader, Nigel Farage with the words : “You were fighting for the exit, the British people voted in favour of the exit. Why are you here?”
Farage was to reserve his stinging response to the full parliament which he told: “When I came here 17 years ago and said I wanted to lead a campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union you all laughed at me. Well I have to say, you’re not laughing now; are you? And the reason you’re so upset, the reason you’re so angry, has been perfectly clear from all the angry exchanges this morning. You, as a political project, are in denial. You are in denial that your currency is failing…Virtually none of you have ever done a proper job in your lives.”
For many politicians in Europe, the exit is like a ghost they want to exorcise. So they have introduced scare tactics like, if you don’t reverse, Scotland and North Ireland will break away. Already, the Scottish card is being played. Scotland had voted against Brexit by 62-38 percent and its leadership in response to the overall result threatens to resurrect the referendum for Scottish independence. Its First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “If the Scottish Parliament was judging this on the basis of what’s right for Scotland then the option of saying look we’re not to vote for something that’s against Scotland’s interest, of course that’s got to be on the table.” She is referring to the hope that since the British Parliament is required to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act which saw UK entry into the EU in 1973, the exit can be blocked by parliament refusing to repeal the Act.

The initial strategy was to collect enough signatures and force another referendum. With this being clearly undemocratic and no assured success, a resort to using the parliament to subvert the sovereignty of the people, seems a better prospect. The argument of the revisionists is that Britain has no constitution, referendum is not a decision making body and that in practice, British sovereignty resides in the ‘Queen in Parliament’ not the people.

To block the exit proper, they are relying on the EU Article 50 which states: “Any member state may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.” In their interpretation, the UK “constitutional requirements” is the parliament. In my view, if the British Parliament were to subvert the will of the people, it would lead the country on a very dangerous path, and would deserve nothing but dissolution.

Cameron who addressed the EU on Tuesday explained why he and his supporters lost: “I think people recognised the strength of the economic case for staying, but there was a very great concern about the movement of people and immigration, and I think that is coupled with a concern about the issues of sovereignty and the absence of control.”

Any discerning analyst would have known that Britain became apprehensive about the free movement of people when in 2004, the EU admitted countries from Eastern Europe like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. It complained about the possible strain of migrants from these countries on its social security system.

However, I don’t think a Europe bent on having its pound of flesh learnt the primary lessons from the Brexit defeat. The overbearing Merkel told Cameron and other leaders at the Tuesday meeting: “If you wish to have free access to the single market then you have to accept the fundamental European rights as well as obligations that come from it. This is as true for Great Britain as for anybody else.”

It is not surprising that Europe which claims to have given the world democracy and taught humanity democratic principles, finds it difficult to accept the result of a straight forward, free and fair referendum of the British people. This has been their reaction over the ages to decisions that do not favour them.

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