I think it highly unlikely the UK will leave the EU. I believe there will be a second referendum, won by those who vote to remain. Indeed, I think it inevitable and necessary.
Consider the timetable. Article 50 is invoked, I would guess between early September when a new Conservative leader is likely to be established and year’s end. However, that is only the beginning of the end.
At that point, the UK remains in the EU for the duration of negotiations for a withdrawal agreement. Theoretically this should be accomplished within two years, but the reality of EU law is that the two-year mark is only there for the EU to dump the UK if it feels negotiations are becoming too protracted. The UK can agree to withdraw before that two years is up if satisfied with what it has negotiated. Alternatively, the two-year limit can be extended if both parties agree further negotiation is needed.
Bearing in mind that we voted blind for Brexit – no one can have a clue what it will look like at this stage – then if there was ever an argument for a referendum on things such as the Lisbon Treaty there’s still more of an argument for the British people to approve – or disapprove – of an agreement which removes us from the EU altogether when we know what it looks like. Whatever it looks like, it’s going to take the nation in as radically a different direction as joining the EU in the first place.
I would suggest a three-way referendum. i), take the agreement as it stands. ii), renegotiate the agreement. iii), forget it, stay in the EU. A two-way vote would be confusing. If the choice were between merely accepting or declining the agreement and declining won, how would that be interpreted? A vote for agreement change, or a vote for ‘in’? We would enter into an endless cycle. Agreement not accepted, renegotiation, agreement not accepted given that at least 48% of the electorate would go for non-acceptance whatever the agreement reads.
To be fair, option three would have to outweigh the votes of options one and two combined. Both those options are, after all, a vote for Brexit. However, it seems likely that a re-run of the referendum even a few days after it was held would have led to a reversal as the “Oh my God, what have we done?” factor kicked in and people started to realise the bunny-rabbits-and-rainbows vision of Brexit wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and the Brexit camp were reneging on promises as soon as rewarded for making them.
Strictly speaking, if the UK wants to stay in it should invoke Article 49 and begin the application procedure all over again, but that would cause a bit of a mess. Britain can’t actually leave until it has negotiated and accepted a withdrawal agreement, and if it doesn’t want to withdraw then how is it supposed to negotiate that? A little legal dancing, however, and I guess Article 50 would suddenly become reversible to the benefit of both parties.
More and more people are talking about dodgy ways to just ignore the result of the referendum we’ve just had. I disagree with them. It’s a democratic mandate, and to ignore it – however reasonably in this instance – would set a very dangerous precedent. However, I cannot see how the Brexit camp can reasonably deny the British people a vote on the withdrawal agreement. Indeed, it would be to undermine many of their ‘democratic’ arguments were such a referendum to be denied.
All this being the case, and it seems to me the most likely scenario moving forwards, the next two years will prove to be damaging certainly with our reaffirmation of membership coming with the nation bruised by the battering of years of uncertainty but, nonetheless, Britain will remain in the EU.