Rejoining the European Union, the holy grail for many Britons, is normally seen as a lengthy process. But what if we never left?
First published in June 2021.
Today it is easy to forget that the decision to leave was almost certainly unlawful and unconstitutional, though the evidence for this is well established. It follows that from a purely moral point of view, we could regard our membership of the EU as being inviolate. Recognising this fact might help us in the future.
“Who made the decision to leave the European Union?” asks the journalist Jon Danzig in his blog. It wasn’t the referendum, as this was advisory only. Advisory referenda have no power to make any such decision, as the Supreme Court later confirmed. And ironically, if the referendum had been legally binding rather than advisory, the result would almost certainly have been annulled by the courts, since it was achieved through dubious means, to say the least.
So who made this momentous decision? It wasn’t parliament either, since contrary to what the rest of the world was told, parliament never debated and voted on the specific question of whether the UK should leave the EU.
The will of the people?
But surely it was the will of the people, all 17.4 million of them? Not at all, because only a minority of the electorate as a whole voted to leave: 37% to be precise. And those most affected were excluded from voting.
No, the decision to leave the EU was taken by one Theresa May alone. That, says Danzig, was the conclusion of a High Court hearing called to clarify this question in June 2018. Though there was significant support for a second referendum among the public, she dismissed that option out of hand. Democracy, clearly, was nowhere to be found.
“Do you get the feeling that the country has been conned on an enormous scale?” asks Danzig. The philosopher AC Grayling agrees, adding that Brexit was essentially a coup, and completely illegitimate.
Nevertheless, most people in Britain accept we have left the EU, that “Brexit has been done”. This may be so in the sense that people in Britain and the EU act as if this were the case, without stopping to reflect on it too much.
Rejoining the EU, then?
Merely declaring something does not make it so. Rupert Murdoch might persuade the country that the moon was made of cheese, if there was something in it for his newspapers. But that would not actually change the composition of the moon.
Similarly, if someone broke into your house and stole your possessions, and said “They are mine now”, that would not in fact be the case. They would still be stolen goods. EU citizenship has been stolen from Britons, but by all that is fair and just, they still have every right to it.
So what needs to happen to restore us to membership? The organisation Stay European is currently publishing a booklet setting out some possible routes. The practical difficulties with rejoining can only be helped if both the EU and ourselves remain mindful that the Brexit referendum was fatally flawed, the whole process of leaving highly questionable. Their diplomats would do well to reflect on their previous well-meaning statements about respecting the democratic wish of our country to leave. It is not a question of looking backwards, more of reminding ourselves that our whole status of being outside Europe rests on the shakiest of foundations.
Many in the EU have regretted that they did not do more to defend one of their most important member countries, and thus prevent the Brexit tragedy. They have regretted that they did not challenge the torrent of slander and misinformation put about by Brexiters. In fairness however, they were only respecting David Cameron’s request that they should stay silent.
But the opportunity will surely come, to correct these deep injustices. If there could just be a recognition, both by the UK and the EU, of Brexit’s illegitimate nature, then this would be a valuable first step.
A step closer to making the many people who remain European in spirit, European in reality.
— AUTHOR —
▫ John King, Retired doctor & Remain campaigner.
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[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 27 June 2021. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]
(Cover: Flickr/Freestocks. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)