The British government must seek a mandate to negotiate brexit

As the shock of the brexit result continues to reverberate (and will for quite some time) there has been quite a bit of chat, in the mainstream and online media, and among friends, about how this decision could potentially be reversed.

At the outset it should be clear that there can be no political prospect of the referendum being re-run. The campaign was long, there was no shortage of reading material or debating time, and there can be no attempt to second guess the result by suggesting that people were not properly informed or did not properly understand what they were doing.

On the other hand, it goes without saying that we have entered a period of significant uncertainty. The British political system is now subject to a power vacuum and it is difficult to see how, at this stage, the government can even function. The Prime Minister and his government are now lame ducks.

Additionally, with the poll out of the way, there are all kinds of mixed messages coming from the Leave camp. The first thing that I’ve immediately noticed is how, after enthusiastically urging everyone to seize the moment to vote Leave, those who made that case have gone very quiet now that they have won. Aside from victory statements, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Dan Hannan have had almost nothing to say. Why aren’t they demanding that David Cameron leave immediately and that they take over ? Why, having demanded that we Leave as quickly as possible, are they now asking for things to slow down, for Article 30 not to be invoked just yet, prolonging the UK’s membership of an institution that they say damages its interests ?

This sits alongside the behaviour of a number of Tory MPs on polling day, when they signed a letter asking David Cameron to remain in charge irrespective of the result. This is a strange position for people who are confident in the correctness of their case to take. Why would you entrust the man on the opposite side of the argument to lead the negotiations implementing the outcome you sought ? Unless, of course, like De Valera, you knew that the outcome of the negotiations would necessarily fall short of what you told the public was possible; and that you were unwilling to face the prospect of returning home and having to sell a deal that you knew would be an enormous compromise of your principles.

Alongside the reticence among Leave to take the lead having won the referendum is a marked reticence to uphold the sales pitch they made which will have encouraged Leave voters in their decision. A clear proposal was made to divert the £350m savings from EU membership into the NHS – yet Nigel Farage chose to wait until after the poll was complete to rubbish it. Other promises were various – discard all Brussels rules and regulations (which rules out a Norway style settlement) yet retain an open border with the Ireland (which requires a Norway style settlement and agreement on free movement). There is no clear picture, or consensus, along which path the negotiations should take.

Into this mix we add the fact that both the British Government and the House of Commons are unambiguously out of touch with the public. The Government was overwhelmingly dominated by the Remain camp. Out of 650 seats, perhaps 200 MPs, at best, were declared brexit voters. In this light, the referendum result can be seen as a vote of no confidence in the Government and the Commons.

This means that the British government has no mandate, and must seek a renewed one. We now need an election to grant voters the opportunity to appoint the negotiators who will bargain over the future of the UK outside of the EU. In this context, it is the responsibility of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats to fight an election campaign on the basis of saving the integrity of the United Kingdom, refusing to invoke Article 50, and seeking a renewed understanding of our place at the heart of Europe.

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