The outcome of the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union has highlighted a series of important questions that are keeping the Westminster political pundits busy.
Will the formal trigger for the exit process, notification under Article 50 of the Treaty, be pulled soon? Will we continue to have access to the European Single Market? Will there be a second Scottish independence referendum? Will the new Conservative Leader and Prime Minister to be announced on 9th September call a General Election to establish their credibility? Who will be that Leader and Prime Minister? Will Jeremy Corbyn survive as Labour Leader and if he does what happens to his Party?
Why would a columnist risk his credibility by seeking to answer such questions when nothing is certain in politics other than that politics has never been more uncertain? There are two reasons why your author will stick his neck out and have a punt at answers to some of them.
First, as long ago as 19th September 2014, this column predicted that Boris Johnson was the “man who would, but won’t be king” because of his willingness to deliver to one audience a pro-Europe, pro-immigration message whilst delivering a different, anti-Europe, anti-immigration messge to another. That is precisely what happened. Michael Gove didn’t trust Johnson to deliver on the Brexit rhetoric. So, this column’s track record has demonstrated a degree of success.
Secondly, some of those huge questions aren’t as complicated as they seem when broken down a little. How should an elephant be eaten? One mouthful at a time, like any other food.
Some senior officials within the European Union have already indicated that the procedures don’t provide for any negotiations on the Brexit terms and conditions unless and until Article 50 has been triggered. Some, therefore, including the rather foolish Nigel Farage among them, have called for the trigger to be pulled without delay. Why? Just because no formal negotiations with officials can occur, doesn’t mean that it’s not in the best interests of the United Kingdom and other leading Member States of the EU to have political discussions at senior level to work out a road-map to be followed. Expect a new Prime Minister to proceed with caution and not to pull the trigger until he or she is clear what the key outcomes will be.
With some degree of confidence, this column predicts that in several years’ time, when the dust has settled on the negotiations, we will find the United Kingdom still has access to the Single Market because it is in our interests and those of Germany and many other Members States of the European Union that such trade should continue between us.
There will be no second Scottish Referendum for the foreseeable future because, were a second one to be called and were the outcome be to remain within the United Kingdom, then the issue would have been settled once and for all. The Scottish National Party would have lost the argument and with it, its reason for existing. Such a “remain” vote is not just possible, but probable because the economic circumstances have changed dramatically. The oil price has plummeted and with it the credibility of the case that Scotland could survive were it to go it alone. What is more, the economic uncertainty and the prospect of a further recession linked to Brexit would make Scottish voters even more cautious and likely to vote for the Devil they know.
Nicola Sturgeon will spend the next few years vociferously demanding a second referendum, castigating the “Westminster Parties” for refusing one, and quietly thanking God that it doesn’t happen. She will use the issue to stoke up resentment on the basis that a separate Scotland would wish to remain within the European Union, despite the fact that the EU has politely, but firmly shut the door in her face on that point.
The Conservative Prime Minister elected on 9th September, Theresa May looking most likely but far from certain to win the contest, will definitely not call a General Election to obtain a mandate directly from the electorate. In recent times, two Prime Ministers, John Major and Gordon Brown, assumed that mantle without going for a General Election immediately, so precedent is on that side. Ask who would benefit? Almost nobody politically. The SNP: they’ve so many seats in Scotland that they wouldn’t likely gain any more and might even lose some. Labour: do turkeys vote for Christmas? They would be severely culled in their current turmoil. Ukip: well, yes, they’d benefit, which is why neither Conservatives nor Labour would risk them securing dozens of Labour seats in the North and North West. The uncertainty, mid-Brexit negotiations, would see a further run on Sterling and stock market jitters, just as a Scottish referendum would.
The Fixed Term Parliament Act, which provides for five year Parliaments, will neither be repealed (that would be seen as cynical so soon after it was brought in) nor its provisions invoked (as the two thirds vote to override the fixed term provision would not be achievable).
As to the future of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, well that is a bit more tricky, but the Carry On Corbyn Show doesn’t yet seem to be going away. With tens of thousands of new members signing up to Labour Party membership every week, it’s possible that a Leadership challenge would return Corbyn with an even bigger mandate from the grassroots than he currently holds despite the declared lack of confidence in him by 80% of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
This is a living nightmare for real Labour Party supporters, as opposed to the entryists who have hijacked it, and it’s a tragedy for democracy. Our constitution requires the checks and balances of a credible alternative Government in waiting. Labour simply cannot play that role right now and our nation is the poorer for that failure.
We risk a situation in which Labour in the House of Commons now formally splits, elects its own Leader of the Parliamentary Party to represent it at the despatch box, usurping the place currently occupied by Jeremy Corbyn. And those MPs who have the courage to sit with that new group then risk being deselected by the very same entryist lefties who put Corbyn in place – a fate which may already await some of those who voted in favour of the recent Motion of no confidence in Corbyn. A grim prospect for a once noble party and for politics as we know it.
This article first appeared in The Catholic Universe of 7th July 2016
Cllr Chris Whitehouse KSG is Chairman of Westminster’s leading political consultancy, www.whitehouseconsulting.co.uk, Secretary of the Catholic Legislators’ Network, a Trustee of the Right To Life Charitable Trust, and a Member of the Isle of Wight Council (Cons. Newport West).