Making sense of the referendum

We – the UK in particular, and the rest of the EU – have to make some sense of the UK’s referendum. Unfortunately few people, particularly politicians, seem to want to do that yet. This is getting no one nowhere.

To reduce it to everyday terms, which may help us see more clearly where we are at, consider how you make buying decisions or other choices in life. You first arrive at an idea of intent: you decide that you would like to buy that car/house/whatever. At that stage, you may not even communicate your desire to anyone else, and you certainly don’t make any form of commitment.

The next step is to assess that choice in greater detail. You look at cost, benefits, how to raise the money, where you’re going to put it, and all the other essential thoughts. During this process, you have still not made any commitment of any kind: no deposit has changed hands.

When you have sufficient information on all the options, you are then in a position to make an informed decision about whether to commit to that course, and exactly how that will proceed. You will then communicate your intent to the other party, sign contracts, pay deposits, and put the process into action.

It is abundantly clear from everything that has transpired about many of those campaigning in the referendum that they – at least – had not looked at the choice in any greater detail. They did make claims about benefits, but these were not founded on any clear plan. Some have subsequently claimed that they did not see this as their role, but it was up to the UK government to do that – which only goes to emphasise that they were offering us an idea of intent, not an informed decision.

The terms of the referendum itself were also undefined. Although some seem to think that its outcome automatically sets in process an irrevocable process, this is nowhere even implied in the Act.

The much-quoted Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty does not itself provide for a sequence of intent, investigation, commitment, and implementation. It only concerns itself with the final phases of withdrawal, once a member state is prepared to make that firm commitment.

The UK now has to accept that the result of the referendum has started a process. But that process starts from its statement of intent. We have yet to investigate the options, to model the outcomes, to determine how the UK’s aspirations might be met by the various arrangements which might result from invocation of Article 50.

The rest of the EU might think that a quick decision is beneficial. Spur-of-the-moment changes to the EU of this magnitude would be good for no one. They would also encourage other states to think that a quick release is a possibility.

So, we as a nation have looked in the shop window. A majority of us have decided that we would like to go in and find out more about leaving the EU. The UK and the rest of the EU now need to explore how that might work, so that the possibilities became clearer. Only then will the UK be in a position to make an Article 50 decision.