POLITICIANS MUST find an answer to the puzzle of not only how Britain goes about leaving the European Union, but also how to respond to the ‘protest’ vote.
Dr Charlie Dannreuther, a lecturer in European Political Economy at the University of Leeds, said political leaders must think carefully about how they engage with people following the vote to leave the EU.
“In many ways it was not a surprise. I suppose it was the scale of the opposition [to remaining] that was not predicted,” he said.
“Two years ago research identified the phenomenon of the ‘left behinders’, people who thought they really hadn’t got the skills to exploit the global economy. All the kind of things we’ve been focusing on as a country for 20 years weren’t accessible to these people.”
He said people had misjudged how significant that group was going be when it came to predicting the outcome.
There has been much talk already about a feeling among this group that the referendum was a chance to show their dissatisfaction with the entire political system and its leadership.
Dr Dannreuther said: “The big issue, if this is a protest vote, is that the protest has been made. Getting out of the EU won’t be much different.
“The group that hasn’t been able to engage, that group will still be dissatisfied.
“Unless whoever comes in has a way of satiating that, they’re going to become more radicalised. We’re going to get this Trump phenomenon where you go further to satisfy them.”
The nature of both the Leave and Remain campaigns had been become as much a talking point as the issue of EU membership itself as yesterday’s vote drew closer.
And the question of what would happen in practice if the nation did chose to leave had been given little airing.
Dr Dannreuther said: “The whole basis became highly emotive, it forgot about a lot of the facts. People still don’t really know a lot about the EU.
“There was no real proposal of what the alternative would be. That presents another really big challenge.
“The EU has framed many of our decisions for 40 years – pretty much all my life and most people’s lives. There are things that we have taken for granted that are not going to be secure.”
He said many voters seemed to have been attracted by a kind of utopian vision for how Britain would be if left Europe.
But we were already seeing politicians back-pedalling on this, most notably Nigel Farage on the official Leave campaign’s call to spend £350 million a week extra on the NHS with money saved from EU contributions.
Next the thorny issue of how we actually withdraw from the EU and when we invoke Article 50 – the procedure which triggers a fixed two-year countdown to leaving – must be addressed.
“It’s fascinating as a puzzle,” said Dr Dannreuther. “Our political system, our democracy, is a parliamentary democracy. At some point they need to have some say in this whole process.
“The question becomes who is going to do it, how is it going to be enacted, how will it be managed?
“Once they’ve decided who’s actually going to be in charge, we’ve got to do it. The amount of legislation which is already implemented based on EU policy, we just don’t have the capacity to get through it.”
He said the scale of the task could force Parliament to develop new ways of making legislation and these might even make the democratic process less transparent.
He said: “There’s no time for the usual level of scrutiny. What will probably happen is there will be lots of executive order. They do that already on deregulation when legislation is out of date – but that’s on legislation that’s already been through parliament.”