23rd. Would Cameron resign? Would the significant figures behind Vote Leave wrest control of the government away from the Cameroons? Who would be negotiating for the UK?
The Tory Party
The Tories have been at war over the EU since we passed into law the European Communities Act in 1972. This war broke cover in a torrent of open attacks over the Maastricht Treaty, the first act of which was the removal of Mrs Thatcher, who would have vetoed the treaty altogether.
This campaign has become very much one fought along the lines of the Tory Split, but although the Tory grassroots are anti EU, much of the Parliamentary Party is not. Most of all, the party of government is rarely anti EU for one reason and one reason only – Economics trump all when it comes to election time. They simply don’t want to rock the boat while they are in charge.
According to web sources, 141 Tory MPs have publicly declared for Leave. This is from a total of 330 Tories in the lower house.
The Labour Party
The Labour Party is almost entirely for Remain, and that will not change after the referendum. Although their leader Jeremy Corbyn is actually an ardent anti EU campaigner of many years standing, he knows that the political reality is that were he to take an anti EU line he wouldn’t last til conference. So apart from a handful of notable rebels, (9 have openly declared their position so far), Labour will be on the remain side of the argument.
The Lib Dems are clearly all pro EU as are the SNP. So that leaves 9 Anti EU voices in the DUP, and UKIP’s lone representative Douglas Carswell.
So what happens after the Vote?
Well we have just seen the breakdown of the parliament as it stands. The Tory MPs are more than 50% for remaining in the EU, so even if Cameron were to fall it is unlikely that they will coalesce around one of Vote Leave figures as a next Prime Minister. More likely they will go for a fairly neutral candidate, one who has not been in the front line on either side. Theresa May has seen this and is not heavily involving herself, so maybe that is a sign that she is lining up a leadership bid?
Whatever happens, the Tory priority will be to reunite their party before the next GE, so there will be serious compromises to be made.
But even with a pro Brexit PM, the general weight of the house will still be Pro EU – and not by a small margin.
Pro EU – 491
Anti EU – 159
That is going to be a significant factor on what shape the negotiations will take and the aim of our exit strategy – because the outcome will have to pass that house of Parliament, and the membership of it won’t have changed significantly before the next GE. It should also be noted that the Tory majority is wafer thin.
The Will of the Public
Parliament will honour the will of the public – it will pass a vote to leave the EU on the back of the referendum (which is of course only advisory on government). However, it is not obliged to take note of any other than that question which the public has answered – Should the UK Leave or Remain in the EU.
The Economic Priority
Clinton wasn’t wrong when he said “It’s the Economy, Stupid!” Politics is really about the art of the possible – and the possible while still be electable. If we have a significant fall in living standards following Brexit, the party at the helm will get hammered next time around. MPs do not like to return to the real world if they can help it!
So uppermost in their minds will be that Brexit will have to be achieved quickly, smoothly and with the least economic uncertainty. Their livelihoods depend on it.
The Civil Service
At present, looking at the Civil Service it would be hard to find the point at which Whitehall ends and Brussels begins. Christopher Booker recounts a cabinet minister telling him about an article in the Telegraph many years ago which highlighted the ‘Gold Plating’ of European law by the Civil Service. The article claimed that the civil service were taking very small regulations and turning them into novellas. The cabinet discussed the article for half an hour – none of the ministers had any idea that this was happening. The ministers simply assumed that the regulations they signed were as they had been originally written in Brussels. they rarely, if ever, read them.
The Civil Service in the UK is a continuity government. They advise the political leadership – “That would be very brave minister”. The rise of the special advisor has actually been a deliberate counter to the influence of the Civil Service. But in the EU real, they have all the experience and the politicians and Spads almost none. This will add significant weight to their advice.
The Civil Service is frighteningly Pro EU – mainly because that is the system that they have spent their entire careers in and they become part of it, rather than merely adjacent to it. The massive repatriation of competencies is something they will be unprepared for.
This is one of the reasons why we believed that Purdah was so important, to take the civil service out of the picture in the last 28 days of the campaign. But when it comes to post Brexit negotiations, the civil service will drive the agenda simply from depth of knowledge.
The end result
With all these forces in the Pro EU camp, it is actually fairly unlikely that we will win the referendum. But even if we do, they will still be in the driving seat when it comes to the deal that is eventually struck. It will take many years for the new found democratic freedom we will have won to permeate its way through the political system and change the attitudes of the representative class. Brexit is only the first step in that process.
In the immediate aftermath, the politicians will seek to serve their key causes – Economic stability, and procedural ease. It will all be about risk management. The Civil Service will also be of a similar mindset, wanting to make sure that there are no sudden changes that they cannot deal with. The body of law passed by Parliament because it was EU law, will largely remain in tact for years, as the process to replace it will be difficult and time consuming.
The first priority will be article 50 negotiations. It is clear that the above analysis of Parliament ( we haven’t touched on the upper chamber in this, but the picture is similarly pro EU weighted), makes it likely that the negotiating position will be one that creates the least upheaval in the two year process. The reluctant Leavers will hold the balance of parliamentary power, those forced into it by us the voters, and they will change as little as they can in this first stage. These are politicians who are currently telling us that leaving the EU would be a disaster. They will not be likely to vote to leave the Single Market.
This of course should lead to one conclusion – the first stage negotiating principle will most likely be one for EEA retention via EFTA.