The EU can't and won't give us a second membership referendumby Peter Kellner / December 11, 2015 / Leave a comment
With election year drawing to a close and (probably) referendum year about to start, let us dispose of one persistent myth about our coming decision on Britain’s membership of the European Union. It is that “out” doesn’t really mean “out.” Dominic Cummings, campaign director of Vote Leave, and Boris Johnson have both advanced this case. They argue that a vote to leave the EU would simply trigger tough negotiations; the rest of the EU would be so keen to keep the UK in the EU that they would make big concessions. We could then have a second referendum, with the option of staying in the EU after all.
The attractions of this for the Vote Leave campaign are obvious. It would remove much of the fear factor. A vote to leave the EU would not be an irreversible leap in the dark, after all.
The trouble is, it can’t happen. The EU’s rules simply don’t allow it. Maybe they should; maybe this is (another?) example of Brussels arrogance. But the rules are clear.
This month’s Prospect published the key document: article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Bronwen Maddox has written about the two-year process that would lead to Brexit, following a referendum vote to get out. It makes grim reading, for the terms would be dictated by a qualified majority vote of the other 27 member states, meeting together without Britain. We could, of course, reject the terms we are offered. But then we would be complete outsiders, for example facing tariffs on our trade with the EU.
However, my concern here is to apply the Lisbon Treaty rules to the Cummings/Johnson plan for Britain to have second thoughts and decide not to leave after all. Article 49 makes no provision for backing off. At most, it says the other 27 member states can stop the two-year clock, if they agree to this unanimously.
So: could they agree to stop the clock permanently, and so, in effect, let the UK remain in the EU for as long as we want? Not really. It would need only one other country, at some point in the future, to withdraw their consent to the stopped clock procedure, and the UK would be out on its ear.…