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Thursday, June 23, 2016
The dirty secret about the Brexit vote: It's all Sham
Either way the U K votes, skeptical Britain will remain as part of Europe
LONDON, 21 June, 2016 — The eyes of Europe and the world are fixed this week on Britain and its referendum on whether or not to stay in the European Union.
Poll numbers have caused violent swings up and down in financial markets around the world. Trillions of dollars ride on the outcome. Political leaders and financiers say the outcome will be momentous either way. A vote for Brexit could plunge the world into recession and crisis, some warn. It could cause the breakup of the European Union, say others. Or it could mark a heroic return to national independence and freedom for Britain, say still others.
But here’s something that everyone in power here knows, but no one is saying in public.
The whole thing is a bit of a sham.
The referendum result won’t change anything legally by itself. And the consequences will be far less momentous than anyone on either side wants to admit.
Even if Britain votes on Thursday to leave the EU, it’s dollars to donuts — or, more accurately, pounds to peanuts — that the government will instead craft a face-saving formula that gives the illusion of Brexit without much substance. Britain will end up striking deals with Brussels to stay within the single market. In return it will have to keep making contributions for access, just as it does now.
A highly placed political insider joked to me recently that Britain could end up retaining even the same voting powers in Brussels it has already.
There might be a few symbolic changes in order to placate the public and maintain a big show of Brexit. But in reality little would change.
Why should we be surprised? The British government and political classes are overwhelmingly in favor of the European Union. So, crucially, is the country’s powerful civil service. British businesses are closely intertwined with the European single market. Attempts to disentangle them could lead to chaos. And the British economy is propped up by huge inflows of foreign capital, buoying everything from industry to London house prices.
Furthermore, Thursday’s referendum has no constitutional standing whatsoever.
Great Britain has no written constitution. By convention, theory and practice, sovereignty actually lies in the parliamentary House of Commons. Britain could only leave the EU by an act of Parliament. And it would be entirely up to Parliament to craft the terms of Brexit, and the shape of whatever followed.
A strongly pro-EU Parliament would surely find a way to minimize the impact of a Brexit vote.
But pro-EU Remain voters shouldn’t be too smug either.
Even if Britain votes to stay inside the EU, the doubts that led to this referendum in the first place will still continue. Thursday is very unlikely to deliver a resounding victory or moral mandate for the European Union. Instead it will probably reveal the British are evenly divided. A majority of Prime Minister David Cameron’s ruling Conservative party is almost certain to vote to leave. A majority of England may do so as well.
The bottom line: The referendum is likely to result in a heavily euroskeptic Great Britain remaining inside Europe — no matter which side wins.