A draft report from the Electoral Commission is reputed to say that the official leave campaign broke the law during the Brexit referendum campaign. This has of course got those opposed to Brexit all of a flutter, declaring that this nullifies the result and that article 50 can be revoked and all manner of other things. One thing I haven’t seen them calling for is for the vote to be run again. Suddenly a “peoples vote” is off the agenda no need for that just revoke the result and award the referendum to remain.
This is of course only a leaked draft and the final report is likely to be challenged. There are also questions about the Electoral Commission itself, did it do things properly, is it biased and why has it so far not investigated complaints made about the behaviour of the remain campaign? The latter I can see a pragmatic reason for, why investigate the side that lost whatever they did obviously didn’t work after all. There have also been a few previous investigations by the Electoral Commission which found nothing, so this is starting to look a bit like taking multiple bites of the cherry.
However lets put all of that aside and consider a few other things. Since the referendum result Remain have repeatedly told us that despite Government leaflets telling us that the result would be implemented the referendum was only advisory so the Government could ignore the result. Well if that was the case then even if the referendum result is annulled it was only advisory anyway so no reason not to press ahead with Brexit if Parliament thinks that best represents the wishes of the people. If it was only advisory then it doesn’t really matter what the result was as Parliament is free to take whatever action it likes in light of the result. I suspect that Remain wouldn’t be too happy with that.
So what are the alternatives? Well we could revoke article 50 and rerun the referendum with new campaigns and very close monitoring of both sides. Whilst this would be expensive what price democracy? Mind you I suspect it would go down with the EU like a cup of cold vomit, and I doubt it would do the economy an awful lot of good either. Which wouldn’t please remain as they seem far more worried about banks, big business and purely economic factors than the Brexit side. Which is something I’ve always found odd as it wasn’t that long ago that the same people were supporting #Occupy with shout to get rid of the city and big business – but hey ho. Starting over from scratch probably isn’t the best idea then, and Remain clearly won’t be happy with carrying on with leaving the EU on the back of a dubious but purely advisory referendum. Which leaves us with the option that would probably please Remain the most, discard the referendum, withdraw article 50 and tell the EU “oops that was all a terrible mistake,lets pretend it never happened”. I suspect the EU won’t be that keen on that and will probably won’t to inflict a price for such an action so we probably won’t be allowed to go back to what we had before. No “status quo” for a repentant Britain (not that there is such a thing as a status quo in an organisation which has the stated goal of ever closer political union).
Let us though ignore all such trifling details. Let’s assume that Parliament does indeed just say “right you lot cheated, so we’re staying in”, further let’s assume that the EU goes “No problem old chap, lets just pretend the whole thing never happened”. I know this is really unlikely but just humour me as it leads to an interesting question. Ever since the referendum result Remain have been saying that Brexiteers need to compromise to reflect the closeness of the vote, that Brexit should be softened to reflect the will of the people. So unless they’re going to try and claim that the official leave campaigns transgressions were so great that actually the vote wouldn’t have been close at all – what I want to know is what “soft remain” looks like? If we withdraw article 50, and stay in the EU what compromises will Remain make to implement a “soft remain”, to properly reflect the will of the people? Mr Cameron after all tried to engineer a soft remain before the referendum and that didn’t go well, since the referendum the EU hasn’t stood still and has proposed centralised EU taxes and a shared military. We’ve been repeatedly told that is we leave we can’t pick and choose what bits to be part of, that it’s all an all or nothing deal. So if Remain got their wish would they then also abandon the idea of compromise to reflect the close divide in opinion, or just how would the engineer a “soft remain”? I know what my money would be on.