Brexit – What Happens If It Fails?

Way back in June 2016, our great country was humiliated on the international stage. In a feeble act of cowardice that fatally undermined our status as one of the great European superpowers, we let ourselves down, our ancestors down, and made a mockery of ourselves.

We lost 2-1 to Iceland.

Also that month, we voted to leave the EU by 52% to 48%.

That first paragraph would ring true to some quarters of the Remain vote if applied to the referendum result, but it isn’t the case. The EU referendum was simply a matter of democracy being carried out, even if it was an extremely misjudged move on the part of the Cameron government.

What is humiliating is what has happened since.

Brexit has brewed, bubbled, and boiled over for over three years now, yet we have not left the EU. We have so fundamentally failed to leave the EU that we have recently elected MEPs to stand in its Parliament.

We have passed two deadlines to leave, and despite the bravado of the two candidates who are competing to become Prime Minister, the odds are firmly stacked in favour of another extension being granted come October 31st.

Parliament will not allow a no-deal Brexit and leading EU figures have reiterated their stance that a new deal is highly unlikely – whoever becomes the next Prime Minister will be stuck in limbo, just as Theresa May was.

So what will resolve it? Barring a diplomatic miracle or a major change of heart by a considerable number of MPs, which is about as likely as Piers Morgan becoming a vegan, there are only two ways out:

  • A General Election, where the Tories and Brexit Party will stand on a mandate of leaving the EU and all other parties will run a mandate to Remain;
  • Or a Second Referendum, putting the vote back to the people with Remain as one of the options on the ballot sheet.

Both of these options, if current polling is to be believed, carry a very real threat of Brexit not happening at all.

It is worth considering what will come next if Brexit fails.

Part One: Abject Fury

While Remainers would rejoice at the idea of Brexit collapsing, those who voted to leave will be apoplectic with rage.

And they will have every right to be. 

A referendum is an example of direct democracy within a representative democratic system – i.e. we elect our officials to make decisions for us, but a referendum is a rare instance in which we make that decision for them. If Brexit doesn’t happen, every single person that voted to leave will have had their democratic rights violated.

There are counterpoints to this, such as a 72% voter turnout not being a full representation of society, or that a utilitarian, tyranny-of-the-majority ideology of “happiness for the greatest number” is a horrendous way to run a democracy.

Perhaps the most pertinent argument is that we have now seen how economically damaging Brexit would be in any scenario, so we should be given a second chance to confirm what we now know.

However, we didn’t know this back in 2016, yet a decision was made. For Brexit to fail would be to tell all of those people, “We asked you, but you got it wrong.”

So, in that scenario, what would actually happen?

If it failed through a second referendum, which would probably happen after a lost General Election by the Tories anyway, there would be immediate calls for a third referendum. The Remain vote would point to the fact that the Second Referendum was called after new information was brought to light – as there would be no more new information, a third referendum would most likely be resisted.

This would lead to protests and possibly even riots. If the Conservative Party was still in power, they would be forced into an immediate General Election, where they would likely be decimated, even in a FPTP electoral system. The winners of this would probably be the Brexit Party, giving Farage his much-desired seat in Parliament.

However, the Brexit Party’s raison d’être would no longer exist, as the EU question would have been answered definitively against them. They would be furious, and a channel for those feeling unrepresented to voice their anger, but they would hold little sway moving forward.

It is unlikely that Corbyn will be in power for much longer, as Between the Lines has covered, so it’s hard to predict where the Labour Party would be at that stage, given the mess he will be leaving it in.

The Liberal Democrats would probably be surging in the polls following a successful Remain campaign, and they might finally have the momentum behind them to form another government.

However, there would be no clear majority for either the Brexit Party, Labour, or the Lib Dems.

A Brexit Party / Conservative coalition might have the numbers to win a majority, but if the Leave side was defeated, once and for all, then they would be driving without a satnav, screaming into the wind about how unfair the result is but with no way of overturning it.

Any majority they had would most likely not be able to get the numbers to ensure a third referendum.

Far more likely is that Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens, and Change UK The Independent Group #changeforthesame, or whatever they’ll be called by then, will all form a grand, Remainer coalition to try and pick up the pieces of what’s left of our democracy.

Part 2: What In God’s Name Did We Do To Our Country?

The coalition will not be able to restore faith easily. Half of Britain voted to leave the EU, and they will all still be hurt, angry and isolated. However, after the valve is released and the protests die down, releasing the pent-up frustration and fury, the only way to move forward will be with cold, dispassionate analysis.

As the dust clears, the reality of the last few years will be revealed, with the liars, zealots and charlatans from both the Leave and Remain sides held accountable for their actions.

A review will be held into the soundbite-laden, Punch-and-Judy politics that brought our democracy to a standstill. We will lambast those politicians who tried to maximise their own political ambitions by catering to the whims of the loudest shouters on Twitter and ignoring what’s best for the country.

A hard shift will be taken towards responsible, pragmatic politics, rather than pandering to the whims of the hard-left fanatics or far-right headbangers. The media will be heavily criticised for fuelling the flames of the political war and will, at last, be held accountable by the people for helping to create the desperately divisive, echo-chamber society we find ourselves in today.

The failings of all of our politicians, our media and ourselves will be revealed in a bright, ugly light.

Part 3: Reconciliation

But it’s only then that we will be able to start to piece things back together again.

If we learn from our mistakes, we can start to rebuild. Remain voters, 48% of all voters in fact, were immediately dismissed after the referendum result as being no longer relevant to the political project moving forward. If Brexit fails, that arrogant complacency simply must not be replicated towards the Leave voters.

To gloat or castigate them would be disastrous – instead, the new coalition must open its doors to these opposing views, to welcome them as checks and balances on their plans for the future, and create a form of politics that, while not pleasing everyone, at least includes everyone.

It will have been nearly four years of tortuous division and bad blood, and finding common ground will not be easy. But by focussing on a new form of consensus-building politics, and listening, really listening, to those voices left behind by technological advances and globalisation, we can start to bring the country back together again.

Epilogue: Happily Ever After?

I know that the above might seem overly optimistic at a time where pessimism runs through the core of our political discourse. I may also be totally wrong – if Brexit collapses, things could deteriorate to such an extent that we are drawn into nation-wide riots, a civil war or even martial law.

But I believe that this country is better than that.

I voted to Remain, but I believe we should Leave. For me, the undermining of our democracy just about outweighs the economic impact of Brexit in terms of grave consequences in the long run.

It must be said that both are horrendous outcomes.

But should Brexit die, should the government fail to enact its principle policy, and should the democratic will of the people be undermined, I believe it will illuminate the cancerous ideologies that are currently tearing our country apart.

We will replace vapid, soundbite politics with progressive, constructive politics.

It will have taken a battery-farm’s worth of eggs to make that omelette, but it will be the best omelette we’ve ever tasted.

It’s ironic that the EU would still be regulating the eggs, though.

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