Brexit: Much ado about nothing because it's not legally binding

Let’s first get one thing out of the way.

The Brexit referendum is not legally binding.

In case the majority goes in for exiting the European Union, the David Cameron government does not have to abide by it. For all intents and purposes, it is a standalone opinion poll and an exercise in letting off some steam.

 Brexit: Much ado about nothing because its not legally binding

Representational image. Reuters

Morally, you might think the government in power would democratically bend to the public will, but if governments did that life would be a four-leaf clover.

Recall the Scottish referendum on independence in 2014 and how close it was called, and how it then fell away to reality by 55 to 45. Much the same is likely to happen on Thursday.

Putting parochial emotion aside for a moment and thinking of the two equally uneasy options, the killing of MP Jo Cox is certain to play on the minds of the undecided. This sort of violence goes against the so-called 'British sense of fair play' and the fact that the killer shouted in court over the freedom of Britain being his reason for killing the Yorkshire representative is certain to maintain its shock value.

Death by gunfire is not a British thing. It's just not cricket.

Also, most Brits are uncomfortable with the shabby and clumsy approach to the serious issue of staying in or walking away from the EU by both sides. It is more tacky than tactical and the average citizen is torn between an atavistic desire for marching to its own drumbeat and the fact that economically walking away could break the camel’s back with GBP 350 billion (around $520 billion) at stake in commercial concessions if one sneaks out from under the EU umbrella.

Until the Cox killing, the anti-EU brigade had a pretty easy time underscoring the uselessness of being in the EU. It has failed to come to any consensus on economic policies, was absolutely appalling in handling the Greek crisis and there are echoes in Portugal and Spain.

In the political arena, it could come to no common ground in handling the refugee problem, so asking why anyone should want to continue membership had grounds.

But Britain is no longer an empire. Nor is there a backup Plan B if things go south. You may well be an island, but you don’t want to be isolated. Using passion and emotion, and working on sentiment is heartening but the void created by getting out will cause a fair amount of grief and adjustment — not  to mention hundreds of jobs.

Neither the pro nor anti factions know what the future would hold if they win. The projections have been vain, personal and childlike. Downmarket politicians making brownie points on treacly patriotism have had their moments in the sun, but not one of them has spoken about the means to handle the negative fallout. The call to regain border control might strike a chord in the British mind, but it is this free pass that fuels commerce.

Also, it is not something that can be done overnight. There is a cost to getting out and prematurely killing ongoing multilateral and bilateral projects in the works.

Come Thursday and the rhetoric will die away as reality sets in. To stay and waffle on in an EU club that is not yet got an act together or to step aside and risk being ostracised at a time when the spectre of global recession is raising its ugly head.

The present assessment is 52 to 48 for but by Thursday night, the gap should widen. It will be very surprising if the British opt for nationalism and emotion before pragmatism. An EU with one less wheel is still a better bet than being marooned on an island whose neighbours won’t forget being dumped.


The one good thing is that either way the British referendum will wake up the EU to becoming a more relevant and decisive entity than the plasticine blob it is at present.

And when the hurly-burly is done and the battle lost or won, it doesn’t matter if there is thunder, lightning or rain, the referendum doesn’t have to be accepted by the government or ratified by the Queen.

Give it 55 to 45 in favour of the status quo, clumsy and oafish and unwieldy as the EU is.

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Updated Date: Jun 23, 2016 09:53:55 IST