EU Referendum: Sketching out the scenarios

10 June 2016

Campaigners on both sides of the EU Referendum debate have been at loggerheads over the potential impact of Brexit, and despite accusations flung about fearmongering and fantasy, the consequences of the vote remain unclear.

This week, DeHavilland sketches out some possible scenarios for what British politics may look like in light of the outcome of the vote on 23 June.

Britain votes to remain

The Reconciliation or Revenge reshuffle

Last night, voters were once again greeted by a head-to-head televised debates, with a trio of Remainers, Nicola Sturgeon, Amber Rudd and Angela Eagle, all taking aim at Boris Johnson’s leadership ambitions.

As Mr Johnson’s Cabinet colleague directly attacked him, it prompted many commentators to speculate on Ms Rudd’s own leadership ambitions, with the FT hinting that she could be preparing to usurp the Home Secretary Theresa May as the preferred Remain candidate for Tory Leader.

DeHavilland has already reported on reshuffle speculation, as it is likely that the Prime Minister could offer rewards to Brexiteers that are much-needed political allies, given the narrow majority he presides over. Leave campaigners could be offered top Cabinet posts, but several have also reportedly been lined up for demotion, notably Priti Patel and Penny Mordaunt.

UK membership of the EU and wider relations

In the pro-EU camp, campaigners have argued that a vote to remain would not maintain the status quo – suggesting that the UK’s relationship with the EU will continue to change in the face of continued Eurosceptism across the UK.

The Prime Minister's negotiations in February secured new terms for Britain’s membership, but Home Secretary Theresa May has made clear her intention to campaign for Britain to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, which could have wider consequences on relations with European partners.

Devolution

Much has already been made by advocates of Scottish independence about the possibility of a second independence referendum, in light of the clear disparity in support for EU membership between England and Scotland

However, Chancellor George Osborne has suggested that if Remain wins, Nicola Sturgeon’s hopes for a second referendum on Scottish independence would be scuppered.

Britain votes to leave

Soft or hard

The LSE has produced a series of blogs attempting to sketch out the potential Brave New World should the UK decide to leave the EU, splitting Brexit into two categories: harsh and soft, relating to the type of agreement the UK reaches with the EU and the nature of the split.

Leadership challenge

On the leadership front, Prime Minister David Cameron has made it clear he intends to stand firm in an attempt to maintain party unity, and has stated that if Britain votes to leave, he will remain PM.

However, his proclamations have been dismissed by some critics, who have watched Boris Johnson edges closer to his dream of reaching Number 10. While there is still much to play for, a Brexit scenario could potentially pave the way to Tory leadership and potentially Prime Minister - if his fellow Brexiteer and master political operator Michael Gove does not pip him to the post.   

With Boris Johnson assuming control, it would remain to be seen whether he could continue to control the party with a slim majority and a major split on EU membership. The FT suggests that MPs would block legislation designed to take the UK out of the Single Market, which could prompt a post-Cameron Government to call a snap election to secure a greater majority.

Putting technicalities attributed to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act aside, Mr Gove and Mr Johnson already have the foundations of a mini-manifesto that appeals to populist politics on issues such as immigration. However, economic storms could confound some of their wilder ambitions.

Opposition position

On the Labour front, rumours have circulated that moderate party members and PLP MPs could use Brexit to launch a campaign to depose Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, in complaint over his leadership in the referendum campaign, or perceived lack thereof. George Eaton of the New Statesman has reported that MPs fear the Labour message has failed to cut through to voters, but equally highlights acknowledgements that a challenge woul likely fail.

Indeed, last night Shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle made no attempt at hiding her leadership intentions, warning Mr Johnson jokingly to "beware of the blonde bombshell".

It's the economy, stupid

The so-called “Project Fear” campaign run by Remain has outlined the potentially negative impact Brexit could inflict on the UK economy. From an immediate “economic shock” to cuts to public services, almost all predictions from international institutions and economists have indicated that uncertainty could damage confidence and investment.

If, as dire warnings predict, Brexit leads to a deterioration of relations with European states, negotiations would be taking place in the context of an unstable political environment. A deal over Article 50, the EU’s withdrawal clause, could be hampered by a lack of direction over the terms the UK or EU wants.

With the nature of the split so contested, former Clerk of the Commons Lord Lisvane suggested that it could lead to a second vote on the terms of Brexit. Writing for the UCL Constitution Unit, he argued that if the vote was close and had a low voter turnout, it could be deemed “not sufficiently decisive” for Britain to leave the EU without a second vote.

Presenting his post-EU vision, Michael Gove has confirmed that Vote Leave does not believe membership of the European Single Market is a requirement, and, as the FT has speculated, are likely to remove the UK from it, thus rescinding the UK’s adherence to the free movement of people principle. If, as sketched out by the FT, Brexit turned out to be a relatively painless process, it could lead to a growth-boosting period, and open trade under the terms of the World Trade Organisation.

Devolution

With former Prime Minsiters John Major and Tony Blair united in support of remain, their dire warnings of the consequences of Brexit on the Peace Process in Northern Ireland highlight the constitutional crisis that could unfold.  

Some have predicted that Brexit could strain the fragile peace in Northern Ireland, while repeated calls for a second referendum from the SNP suggest that an IndyRef mark two could be on the cards, possibly leading Scotland to exit from the UK.

With the Tory leadership campaign never out of mind, whatever the vote, expect analysis on 24 June to centre on those with prime ministerial ambitions on both sides of the political spectrum. Brexit will lead to a level of political uncertainty in all aspects of British political life, but remain might not offer the security and balance investors desire. 

Jasmine Mitchell
Jasmine Mitchell
Political Analyst

Jasmine Mitchell is a Political Analyst at DeHavilland, where she monitors the UK Parliament and devolved institutions. She first joined DeHavilland as a Research Assistant in January 2015. Jasmine holds a BA in Modern History and Politics from the University of Liverpool and a Masters in Conflict, Security and Development from King's College London.