‘Brexit means Brexit,’ but being British is also about compromise

Since the outcome of the Brexit referendum was announced last month, millions of Britons have called for a revote

Peter Harrison

Published: Updated:

British democracy has always been based on compromise – it is rare that a large majority vote for the party in power. Yet despite this the country still carries on – albeit reluctantly.

Currently there’s something very different happening in Britain. Since the outcome of the Brexit referendum was announced last month, millions of Britons have called for a revote.

In the last week an online petition carrying 4 million signatures calling for a second referendum was presented to the UK government. While Cameron has ruled out a second referendum, MPs will nonetheless debate the call, although it is unlikely to have the power to change anything.

The government – not least Cameron – argued that the British public voted overwhelmingly in favor of the UK leaving the European Union. In truth less than 52 percent voted for Brexit.

But those who want to remain in the EU argue that the electorate was misled by campaigners, and that with such a slim majority it is too big a step to make.

This week 1,000 UK barristers wrote a letter to Cameron urging him to seek a parliamentary approval to trigger article 50 – the action that begins the country’s exit from the EU – based on their informed legal opinion that the referendum was advisory and not binding.

If a general election were called, it’s impossible to see where those opposed to the Brexit would (or indeed can) turn

Peter Harrison

They argue that because the result was only narrowly in favor of Brexit, the misrepresentations told to the electorate surrounding investment in the health service and immigration “played a decisive or contributory factor in the result”.

The senior lawyers go on to argue that the “referendum did not set a threshold necessary to leave the EU, commonly adopted in polls of national importance”, that is 60 percent of those voting.

The result, the lawyers presume, was therefore only advisory. And they reminded the government that the outcome – whatever it might be – would impact a generation who were too young to vote.

Since June 24 when the Leave campaign won, millions of people opposed to the Brexit have started protesting, marching on parliament, signing more petitions, calling for legal action.

Come what May

Whatever the outcome, Britain finds itself in a sticky situation. The two main political parties have been in turmoil since June 24 – although as I write this, the majority Conservative Party have already selected Theresa May as their new leader.

But May now has to take the country through the process that could ultimately see the country leaving the EU. There’s no guarantee her position will be safe as prime minister, given the growing opposition to a Brexit.

Despite Cameron’s resignation as PM there is no requirement for a general election until 2020, by which time Britain could have been removed from the EU and changed beyond all recognition.

There is already a growing call for this general election to be brought forward – given that Theresa May was not the leader of the Conservatives when they were elected as the majority government in 2015.

And that the first referendum was arguably only done because it was a manifesto pledge to get Cameron elected.

May was not leader of the party when she was reelected in 2015 and it was not her pledge, so one could suggest she doesn’t need to satisfy the 4 million 2nd referendum demanders in anyway, and so is sticking with the Brexit is Brexit line.

If a general election were called, it’s impossible to see where those opposed to the Brexit would (or indeed can) turn. Currently the official opposition Labour Party is at crisis point, its own members admitting that the party is at risk of splitting.

Meanwhile the British pound has plummeted to lows last seen more than three decades ago – great news for those of us sending money home – terrible for anyone exporting from within the country.

Some (but no means a majority) of Britain’s funding comes in the shape of grants from the EU, which would no doubt stop if the country leaves. There has been much written about the rural communities that overwhelmingly supported the country’s exit from Europe – yet stand to lose the most if the Brexit happens.

Which brings me back to the call for a second referendum. It’s difficult to see how Britain can recover from the current situation it finds itself in.

The nation feels more divided than I have ever known – whatever the outcome of the UK’s position in the EU, at least half the population is going to be angered.

How far that anger goes, remains to be seen – but I fear that my dear old Blighty – that nation of compromise – is headed for an even rougher ride before the dust settles.

As such, PM May faces a tremendous challenge where she is literally in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation and this is why the only way out is remembering that while a slim majority did vote for Brexit, being British has always been about compromise and an acceptable compromise is what is needed now.

Peter Harrison is a British photojournalist who has worked for print, digital and broadcast media in the UK and the UAE. He’s covered everything from farming in the south west of England, to the war in Afghanistan. He is a senior journalist with Al Arabiya English.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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