Six reasons not to panic if Britain votes for Brexit

Could it really be as bad as committed supporters of our membership of the European Union fear? Our Chief Political Commentator does some soothe-mongering

John Rentoul
Friday 17 June 2016 14:13 BST
A majority of the public fear a no-deal end to Brexit transition, new polling suggests
A majority of the public fear a no-deal end to Brexit transition, new polling suggests (AFP/Getty)

1. Nothing much will happen straight away

If we as a nation vote to leave, that does not mean we cease to be members on 24 June. Constitutionally, the referendum is advisory. It is an instruction to the Government to begin the process of withdrawal.

The Government has various options. It could simply repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and all associated legislation and tell the EU that the UK is no longer a member. That could take a matter of days when Parliament reconvenes on Monday 27 June. But no one expects anything to happen that quickly.

The Lisbon Treaty in 2009 set out for the first time a formal procedure for a country to leave the EU. It would be tactful to use it if we want to remain on good terms with our former partners, and if we want to negotiate favourable terms for our departure.

Article 50 sets a time limit of two years on those negotiations, at the end of which Britain would leave.

All you need to know about the EU referendum

2. Boris Johnson isn’t that scary really

David Cameron would still be Prime Minister for the time being. I think he would announce that he will step down when a successor is elected.

Others think he might try to stay on to manage at least the start of the Brexit negotiations. I don’t think that would be right: the British people, having voted to leave, would be entitled to have someone who advocates leaving in charge of the negotiations. I think the Conservative Party would take that view too, and its MPs, although a majority of them currently support Remain, would swing behind a Leave leader.

So Boris could be prime minister by October. Even if you disagree with him on the EU, though, he is a liberal, One Nation, pragmatic Tory who was centrist enough as Mayor of London to win the votes of many natural Labour voters (twice).

3. Ukip would be finished

The party would have achieved its aim, and logically ought to wind itself up. Many of its supporters may have other objectives, such as tilting at windmills and reversing the law on gay marriage. They would probably join, or re-join, the Tory party and try to drag it to the right.

But the search for greener energy will go on, and public attitudes to gay marriage are unlikely ever to go back to the 1950s.

If Boris Johnson, or Andrea Leadsom, becomes prime minister, they are not going to bring Nigel Farage into government. The more prominent Tory MP Leavers tend to be on the right of the party, but the new prime minister would want to bring the party together – just as David Cameron would want to promote talented Leavers if Remain won – and it would be fun to watch as lifelong Remainers scramble to accommodate themselves to the new reality.

4. We would save some money

The Leave campaign’s claim that we send £350m to Brussels every week is untrue, but our net contribution is about £180m, as we are one of the richer members of the club. This amounts to about £200 per year for each adult.

We would be taking that money from Romanians and other Europeans who are less well-off than we are, but leave that aside for the moment.

What to believe about the EU referendum

It is a significant amount of money, even if it is not as much as the Leave campaign claims. It is about half of one per cent of national income.

We would stop making that contribution if Prime Minister Johnson were able to negotiate a relationship with the EU that didn’t involve our contributing to EU funds – although it is worth noting that Norway and Switzerland do.

5. Most of the damage done by leaving would take a long time

We would probably lose more than £200 per year per head eventually. We might lose it quite quickly if there is a “Brexit recession” caused by the shock to confidence and expectations of a Leave vote, even if we would not actually disengage from the EU single market for at least two years.

If we dodge that bullet, and if the Brexit talks go smoothly, and if Britain disengages from the EU with reasonably favourable access to its single market, even then there would be negative consequences for our economy over the years. We would not be able to trade as freely with the the EU; our labour market might become less flexible; and we would probably attract less investment.

We would probably not be worse off than we are now, but we would be worse off than we would have been if we had stayed in the EU. That £200 saving would soon seem like ancient history as both we and the Romanians ended up worse off than we would have been.

6. Nothing bad happened to Greenland

So far no country has left the EU, although Greenland, a territory of Denmark, left in 1985. Greenlanders are three times richer than they were then, 31 years ago. The only thing is, the Danes in Denmark are five times richer.

The EU referendum debate has so far been characterised by bias, distortion and exaggeration. So until 23 June we we’re running a series of question and answer features that explain the most important issues in a detailed, dispassionate way to help inform your decision.

What is Brexit and why are we having an EU referendum?

Does the UK need to take more control of its sovereignty?

Could the UK media swing the EU referendum one way or another?

Will the UK benefit from being released from EU laws?

Will we gain or lose rights by leaving the European Union?

Will Brexit mean that Europeans have to leave the UK?

Will leaving the EU lead to the break-up of the UK?

What will happen to immigration if there's Brexit?

Will Brexit make the UK more or less safe?

Will the UK benefit from being released from EU laws?

Will leaving the EU save taxpayers money and mean more money for the NHS?

What will Brexit mean for British tourists booking holidays in the EU?

Will Brexit help or damage the environment?

Will Brexit mean that Europeans have to leave the UK?

What will Brexit mean for British expats in Europe?

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