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Is the UK referendum result to leave EU legally binding?

27 Jun 2016 at 06:34hrs | Views
The question in most people's minds is whether the referendum result "to leave" is legally binding on the United Kingdom. One fundamental truth is that the United Kingdom parliament is sovereign and the leader of the country, in this instance the Prime minister will not be legally obliged to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which is the precursor to the "leave" process or EU exit. In theory the EU referendum result is not legally binding and the Prime Minister had he chosen not to resign, could have ignored the will of the people and presented the matter to parliament and hope the majority of Members of Parliament will vote to over-turn the people's verdict to leave. This is because constitutionally parliament is sovereign and referendums are generally not binding in the United Kingdom.

 This is the position theoretically. In reality things look different. For instance, David Cameron has signalled his intention to resign; he has formally advised the queen; this makes him now a lame-duck Prime Minister. He has unilaterally stripped himself of the mandate to present this Constitutional position to parliament lending strength to the Brexit campaigners and credibility to the referendum result. The referendum result is we all know was 52 – 48 in favour of the brexit campaigners.

This being the scenario, in practice the United Kingdom is now bound by the referendum result because the Prime Minister has effectively passed any mandate to actualise the Brexit outcome to the next Conservative leader who in turn will be the next Prime Minister. Another moral/ constitutional dilemma is that it will be politically incorrect for a new Conservative leader to come from the remain block. This will seem to compromise their ability to negotiate an exit when they themselves voted to remain in the EU.

Another possible scenario being flouted around is the possibility of the Scotland block that voted to remain to table a motion before Westminster parliament for a vote to disregard the referendum outcome. Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish first Minister may or can step into the Prime Minister's shoes (theoretically) and offer leadership in the campaign in Westminster parliament for a majority vote across the political divide to disregard the referendum result and uphold the supremacy or sovereignty of parliament. This road is however untested and fraught with unintended consequences: One can only imagine the fury of the English people who voted to exit when a Scottish leader pokes their nose in their affairs: it may come across as a coup on brexit campaigners and there is the attendant constitutional crisis that may result from this course of action. Power seems to devolve to Scotland and Wales and not the other way round.

Another consideration worth noting is that the brexit narrative is slowly gaining traction and acceptance: the British people seem to have begun to accept their fate outside the EU despite scaremongering from Brussels for them to pack and go immediately. Parallels have been drawn between the EU exit and an acrimonious divorce with France asking its parliament to forego immigration checks at Calais and leave the British to their own devices. This is having the effect of raising the ego and pride of the British people and most are beginning to talk back at utterances coming from across the channel. Whatever the outcome, it appears as if the locus standi for action or inaction lies squarely in the brexit camp and the imminent rise of one of their own- Boris Johnson.

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