When the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced that he was going to give the UK people a chance to vote in a referendum, it was clearly on the basis of his negotiations with the EU about several special concessions for the UK. There was no mention in his announcement that there was any concern about the free movement of citizens from other EU countries into the UK.
After many months of tough negotiations, Cameron got his principal concession from the EU. When the EU Treaty was next revised – as it periodically is – the UK would be able to exempt itself from “an ever closer union” and also have an opt-out for any policy that it did not agree with. That was a huge achievement and the purpose of the referendum was to discover if this was acceptable to the UK people.
However, when it came to the referendum itself this purpose was lost. It was to be a vote – pure and simple – on continued EU membership. What is more, two essential safeguards were not built into the vote – that any decision for change should be by a “clear majority” and that all parts of the UK – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should have to agree to any change. The normal threshold in such votes is 55%.
But no safeguarding threshold was set, and thus Brexit could be activated if 50.01% of the population voted for it. As it was, the majority was little more than that figure. What is more, Scotland and Northern Ireland (as well as London) voted to remain in the EU.
More important still was the fact that the fundamental reason for the pro-Brexit vote was a form of xenophobia, largely stirred up by UKIP. This should have certainly caused a crisis at the time, as the whole functioning of a democracy should have been in question. How can a modern democracy function if it is being driven by policies that are motivated by xenophobia or discrimination? This, after all, was the reason why apartheid had to end in South Africa and why attitudes towards foreigners is now driving that country back towards the wall.
The EU should have questioned the referendum structure, the popular motivation for voting intentions and its result from the start and made it clear that a deeply faulted poll was not an acceptable ground for an Article 50 application from the UK.
In a breakfast briefing in London this morning, the Secretary-General of the Federation of International Employers (FedEE), Robin Chater, said:
“Whatever the conclusion of the UK Supreme Court on the legality of the proroguing of Parliament, the more fundamental issue about the integrity of the UK referendum result remains. Huge mistakes have been made by both the UK government and the European Commission in allowing the situation to get this far. The EU is bound by its 2008 Framework Decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law and it should always intervene where such actions form the basis for any political campaign. It backed off from such an action in 2016 and the consequence was Brexit. Now it is all far too late.”