Since the UK’s vote to leave the EU last week, the news has been rife with negative consequences and stories of ‘regrexit’ from those who voted leave but now wish they could change their minds. There’s plenty of speculation about scenarios in which Article 50 – the legislation officially triggering the UK’s exit – is never activated, but how likely are they?
What if the next Prime Minister does not activate Article 50?
David Cameron said in his resignation speech on Friday that he would leave the triggering of Article 50 to the next Prime Minister, who will be elected when he stands down in October. Given the dramatic impacts of the UK’s vote on the global economy, political leadership and remaining EU member states, there is an argument that any leader who pulled the trigger would be knowingly plunging the country into recession and isolation with catastrophic consequences. The referendum result is non-binding and only advisory; depending on who is elected leader, there may be a question of whether anyone will be brave enough to push the button. Likelihood: 5/10
What if a new government calls a second referendum?
Leader of the Liberal Democrats Tim Farron has already pledged to run any future election campaign on a pro-EU platform, and it looks likely that the Labour party will face a leadership election based on dissatisfaction with Jeremy Corbyn’s performance in the ‘remain’ campaign. If a general election is called based on a new Conservative leader – we would, after all, have a Prime Minister we hadn’t voted for – and a pro-EU party wins, there would exist a democratic mandate for a second referendum. Likelihood: 3/10
Could there be a successful petition for a second referendum?
More than 3 million people have signed a petition calling for a second referendum. However, there is no formal process for the public to trigger a referendum; this has to be done by lawmakers. There are difficulties in validating all signatories of an online petition and, given that politicians on both sides of the debate have publicly vowed to respect the decision, it seems unlikely the protest will succeed. Likelihood: 2/10
Can Scottish Parliament veto the referendum?
Over the weekend, discussion was rife of a possible scenario in which the Scottish government refuse to give the UK parliament consent to exit. However, under the law, this is not the same as a veto. While the Scottish Parliament do have the right to refuse consent, Westminster can still choose to overrule this and proceed anyway. There is a hypothetical chance that Scotland could play a role in creating a loophole though; if the country votes for independence and secures EU membership before the UK officially leave, we could see other pro-remain areas such as Northern Ireland and large cities like London, Manchester and Liverpool push for their own arrangements. In this case, the situation becomes very different for what remains of the UK and the original referendum result may lack some legitimacy. Likelihood: (2/10)
Could MPs vote against Brexit?
In a statement widely circulated on social media, Labour MP David Lammy suggested that the referendum results should go to a parliamentary vote before being taken as permission to proceed with an exit. In theory this is possible, and such a scenario would most likely see Parliament block brexit, given that the vast majority of MPs were pro-remaining. However, such a move would almost certainly be seen as undermining the huge democratic process of the referendum and would risk serious backlash from pro-leave voters and politicians who have promised to respect the result. Add to that the precarious leadership we are currently witnessing on both sides of the House of Commons, and this scenario seems very unlikely. Likelihood: 1/10