Brexit: Give the power back to the people

Opinion by: Olivia R.

Edited by: Alexandra L. & Justin S.

In 2016, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, called a referendum for the UK citizens to vote whether or not to leave the EU. Shockingly, a majority of 51.89% of voters were in favor of leaving the EU, marking the first time in history a national referendum went against the option the UK government preferred. These results have caused financial markets worldwide to react negatively, and since then, the UK has suffered economic consequences. After the referendum, David Cameron, having unsuccessfully campaigned for the UK remaining a part of the EU, resigned from his position.

While it may seem like the UK government had to push through with the referendum result, it’s important to note that the referendum was only advisory, not binding. This means that contrary to many news outlets and political figures, unless Parliament explicitly agrees to follow through with the result of a referendum, it is not legally bound to carry out the action voted for. Even so, the House of Lords Constitution Committee, the upper chamber of Parliament, stated that “it would be difficult for Parliament to ignore a decisive expression of public opinion”.

In light of recent protests, however, the public’s opinion is not in favor of leaving the EU. Over a million people protested in London on March 23, 2019. The crowd was a sea of the blue and yellow of the EU flag, carrying slogans such as, “Never gonna give EU up”, “Forget the Ides of March – Beware the Brexit of May”, and “Brexit is treason.” (BBC) Seemingly, the ongoing Brexit debates since the first referendum have served as a wake-up call to the UK population. The impacts of the referendum results has reaffirmed that the EU provides a host of benefits, such as trade agreements, open borders, and easy immigration.

Brexit has caused the UK economy $1 billion a week — or $6 million an hour — even though Britain’s trading relationships have not been changed. Before the referendum, the UK was the fastest-growing G7 economy (The Group of Seven, representing 50% of the global net wealth, consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Now, the annual growth of their economy has dropped from 2% to less than 1%. Banks and financial services are relocating out of the UK, causing the nation to further lose $1.3 trillion in assets. Aside from the financial loss, the UK is also losing its migrant workers: “Statistics show that there are around 8,000 architects from the EU working in the UK, but the number of new registrations [of architects] from EU nationals dropped by 42% between 2016-18.” (BigIssue)

With these issues, the organization of the recent protest seems like a no-brainer. Seeing the consequences first hand allows the general public to now be better aware of the difficulties of leaving the EU, which is now a decades-old union strongly embedded in their culture as well as their economy. Why should the UK population give up their EU rights and privileges over one advisory referendum? Instead of trying to see why so much of the population voted to leave, the government decided to follow through, without asking why the public was unhappy with remaining in the EU and trying to alter any policies to make the population happy. In addition, they decided to leave the union without a clear, organized plan– lacking consensus about the way forward if the UK were to leave the EU. Members of Parliament have rejected all eight of the alternative proposed strategies. Therefore, there seems to be only one clear path: a second referendum.

With the dire consequences of the notion of leaving the EU becoming increasingly apparent and young people who have only ever known freedom of traveling without visas becoming eligible to vote, it looks increasingly unlikely that the UK would vote to leave. These factors lend a different complexion to the debate, which in turn renders the previous outcome less likely to be replicated were another referendum be called. This is why the protest on March 23 was so necessary: if there were another referendum, the choice of how, when, or if the UK were to leave would be returned to the voting public. (Which, frankly, is what democracy is about.)

As Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, in favor of granting the UK an extension, so eloquently said to the Council in the EU summit in Brussels last week, “You cannot betray the 6 million people who signed the petition to revoke Article 50, the 1 million people who marched for a People’s Vote, or the increasing majority of people who want to remain in the European Union… They may feel they are not sufficiently represented by the UK parliament, but they must feel that they are represented by you in this chamber. Because they are Europeans.”