On 23 June 2016, the UK held a referendum to remain in or leave the European Union. Brexit prevailed by 52 percent to 48 percent. However, only one in three of the eligible British electorate voted for Brexit. Many around the world then asked on Google, “What happens if the UK leaves the EU?”
The potential withdrawal of Britain from the EU could herald not only the collapse of the UK and the disintegration of the EU but also foment conditions in Europe for global conflict. But these risks can be subdued by acting on two words: nullify Brexit. Brexit can be stopped by a series of political interventions over the next few months.
These include calling an early general election in which Brexit gets voted down; a parliamentary vote where Members of Parliament (MPs), as per parliamentary sovereignty, vote against Brexit as an advisory, non-legally binding referendum; a second referendum where Brexit is defeated by popular mandate; MPs delay voting on British laws relating to Brexit; and, critically, the UK not trigger Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU’s most recent constitution, which makes provision for countries to leave the EU within a two-year window.
The United Kingdom has never been as ripe for achieving its true Greatness as it is now, by focusing on three opportunities: capitalizing on tremendous vacuum of leadership in political parties; identifying and promoting an emergent generation of on-the-cusp or actual Millennial political leaders; and enhancing the executive role of the British monarchy in politics.
Recognized as a failure of democracy, those against the Brexit vote are trying to utilize all viable political means to challenge the most representative example of direct democracy in the form of 17 million votes in a referendumTalal Malik
The current British Prime Minister David Cameron of the Conservative Party, the architect of the Brexit referendum, announced his resignation on 24 June, for a new prime minister to be selected by September. The Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn of the Labor Party, has within a week of the referendum, witnessed the collapse of his Shadow Cabinet in a show of no-confidence in his leadership.
Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, the Tory leaders of the “leave campaign”, are now de facto leads for assuming the mantle of the Conservative Party and therefore the Premiership of the UK. Michael Heseltine, the former British Deputy Prime Minister from the Conservative Party, fears for the death of the party and is calling for cross-party support to fight against Brexit.
Mobilization has already commenced on thwarting the joint-leadership bid, particularly with the absence of a plan from the “leave” campaign. Internally, current leaders within the Conservative Party are planning to challenge the leadership bid through launching their own. Externally, a popular plan has emerged for members of the public to join the Conservative Party to help elect an anti-Brexit leader, mimicking the strategy that led to Corbyn being elected leader of the Labor Party in 2015.
Johnson and Gove also have similar career profiles. Not only did both study at Oxford, but were also both Presidents of the Oxford Union debating society in 1986 and 1988 before embarking on a career in journalism followed by politics.
Amid the current disarray in British politics, a new generation of British Millennial political leaders can emerge. Whilst there may be a natural inclination to focus on the likes of Oxford Union Presidents of the 1990s and 2000s who succeeded Gove and Johnson, other valuable choices for fast track leadership in the political parties would be those who have worked in the charitable and relief sectors, as assassinated British MP Jo Cox was, and the heroic doctors and nurses, who have reluctantly become politicized in order to save the British National Health Service.
Recognized as a failure of democracy, those against the Brexit vote are trying to utilize all viable political means to challenge the most representative example of direct democracy in the form of 17 million votes in a popular referendum. They have taken to heart a quote from Sir Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister during World War II who was voted the Greatest Briton in a BBC poll in 2002 – “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
The final epiphany of the Brexit referendum has been in determining what model of governance the United Kingdom has: it is a constitutional monarchy (without a written constitution) under which (Her Majesty’s) government operates based on the (Palace of) Westminster parliamentary system. Plato recognized monarchy as the most desirable form of governance, with democracy only a step away from tyranny. In the UK, the monarchy was abolished in 1649 for a decade of republic government before being restored in 1660. Britain, therefore, has a history in rectifying such political mistakes as Brexit.
While the sovereignty of the British people as per the referendum can be challenged by the sovereignty of Parliament, what of the sovereignty of the Sovereign? It is little known that the British monarch is above the law and has the authority, privilege and immunity to exercise their executive powers called the Royal Prerogative in an emergency, of which Brexit is indeed one.
While Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, has stated that, as a result of Brexit, there will be no United Kingdom in five years, the role of the British monarch in politics now becomes increasingly important. With Queen Elizabeth celebrating her 90th Birthday in 2016, there is a need to formalize and enhance the use of the “black spider” memos by Charles, Prince of Wales, dispensing policy counsel to British government ministers and politicians over the years, so that debacles such as Brexit never occur again.
Brexit is an example of a global divergence, like the rise of Donald Trump in US politics, which can have tremendous and catastrophic consequences starting with the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the collapse of the UK, the disintegration of the EU and creating conditions in Europe for global conflict. It can also be averted based on legal but ultimately anti-direct democratic avenues.
In the long-term and to contribute to genuine convergence in the country, there will be a need for genuine leadership in the country’s political parties to emerge, fresh talent in political leadership from Millennial British citizens and more direct, less ceremonial, involvement from the British monarch in everyday political life.
Talal Malik is an adviser on governance, strategy and influence to some of the world’s senior government and business leaders. He has previously held senior executive roles at McKinsey & Company, Reuters and the United Nations and has a Masters from Pembroke College, University of Oxford.