The Brexit referendum was advisory and non-binding. There is no absolute requirement for the government or parliament to follow the result. There may be a moral obligation but with the split 52/48 result it is not all that compelling. It could be argued that since David Cameron called the election, he is responsible for implementing whatever result it produced. He has said that he will not start the formal Brexit process (invoking Article 50) and it seems unlikely that he will cave in to pressure from the EU, either in verbal or written form, such that the EU can “deem” the process to have started. Certainly if he stays he has some obligation, but he has got out of that by announcing his coming resignation.
The same parliament but with just a new Prime Minister – and even one from the Brexit camp – will not have a parliamentary majority in favour of Brexit. (In fact I am not convinced now that a Brexiteer could even win a majority among the current Conservative MP’s). Without a parliamentary majority no necessary legislation will get passed. Moreover the Scottish parliament will withhold consent for any legislation which makes any change to how EU laws affect Scotland. Theoretically, the UK parliament could overrule a Scottish withholding of consent, but, without a parliamentary majority for Brexit, that probably could never happen. So the new Prime Minister has little option but to call a General Election asking for a mandate. But first he has to lead a party which takes on Brexit in its manifesto. And that today is not possible for either the Conservative or the Labour party. I cannot see a Conservative Conference in October accepting to put a Brexit in its manifesto. The Labour party is in shambles and it was labour voters defecting to a UKIP immigration agenda which tipped the balance in the referendum. The Liberal Democrats will not have any anti-EU manifesto and UKIP will. Even supposing that UKIP win a number of seats, they will never have enough to form a government. The bare majority in the referendum comes from across party lines. But any government, now or after a general election, will follow party lines.
So, even after a General Election, there can be no government committed to a Brexit and willing to set it in motion.
The EU is suffering from “interesting times”. Perhaps the EU will actually be reformed along the way. But I am beginning to wonder – just two days after an advisory, non-binding referendum – whether there can be a Brexit at all without a government and a parliament committed to implementing a Brexit. Is Brexit already dead?
My preference for a reformed EU without a Brexit is not – at least on this Sunday evening – not looking as impossible as it was yesterday.