Thursday, June 30, 2016
I am sitting in a flat in London watching one of the Brexit wrap-up news shows. As someone who teaches EU Law and Comparative Law: The English Legal System, the referendum vote and aftermath have been fascinating.
I always encourage the students in my courses to "take off their U.S. spectacles" and try to understand the views and processes of other legal systems. Law students have certainly had an interesting year to watch in Europe with the migrant crisis, terrorist attacks, and Brexit.
For those who have not been following the happenings across the pond, let me do a quick summary of the action.
- As part of the party manifesto in the last General Election, the winning Conservative (Tory) Party promised to renegotiate the terms of the UK's membership in the European Union and to then hold a referendum on membership.
- In February, the renegotiated terms with the EU were finalized; the Prime Minister had negotiated new terms in several areas with disagreement in the UK as to the success of those negotiations.
- Within days of the renegotiated terms, the Prime Minister set the date for a referendum on whether to remain in the EU.
- The official campaign for remaining was named Britain Stronger in Europe - colloquially Remain; the official campaign for leaving was named Vote Leave - colloquially Leave.
- The pre-vote campaigns and debates leaned heavily on speculative promises on what Brexit would involve, mudslinging, name calling, and lying with statistics; UK citizens voiced frustration on not knowing what to believe.
- On June 23rd, UK citizens voted in a referendum on whether to remain in the European Union.
- The vote was in favor of leaving the EU - rounded 52% leave and 48% remain.
- London, Scotland, and Northern Island voted strongly for remain; England and Wales voted strongly for leave.
- Voters over 65 voted mainly to leave; 18-24 year-olds voted mainly to remain.
- Approximately 83% of older voters turned out while 35% of younger voters turned out.
- The main issues debated were the economy, immigration, and sovereignty.
- The Conservative (Tory) Party was split between Remain and Leave campaigners.
- The Labour Party was part of the Remain campaign; Labour voters mainly voted for leave.
- The Liberal Democrats Party stood for Remain, but was fairly quiet during the campaign.
- The UKIP Party focused mainly on national identity and immigration. (Note: there are three main parties and additional parties in the UK; UKIP is a right nationalist party.)
- The Remain campaign focused mainly on the economy; the Leave campaign focused mainly on national identity and immigration.
- David Cameron, the Prime Minister, will resign as soon as the Conservative (Tory) Party chooses a new leader at its September party conference. (Note: the electorate votes for the governing party and not the P.M. in the UK; so the 150,000 party faithful will determine the new P.M.)
- Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, is being attacked for his lack of leadership for the Remain campaign. Many of his shadow cabinet members have resigned, and there is a call for his resignation after a no-confidence vote among Labour MPs.
- There are calls for a General Election in the near future. (Note: the governing party determines when an election is held within its 5-year governing period.)
- Pro-EU Scotland is talking about a new referendum to leave the UK; and its First Minister has been meeting with EU leaders.
- The pound fell to its lowest level since 1985 on Friday and has stayed depressed.
- Shares fell steeply on Friday in all world markets - especially banking shares - and have not fully recovered.
- The Governor of the Bank of England and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have made statements to reassure the country of the economic stability of the UK.
- The Prime Minister met with EU leaders at an emergency meeting in Brussels; the other 27 Member States' leaders then met without him to discuss the 2-year UK withdrawal process required under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty as a result of the referendum.
- Some are predicting the disintegration of the EU because the exit of the UK will trigger exits of other Member States. (Note: there are 28 Member States including the UK.)
- Remain campaigners are pointing fingers; Leave campaigners are back-peddling on "promises" they made before the vote.
The UK firmly believes in the democratic process. The democratic process can be messy. At first glance, democracy seems to be causing pain within the UK for the short-term and possibly longer. Most say that 500+ years of parliamentary democracy show that the UK will survive this blip. Rule of law is firmly in place in the UK.
The business now is for the UK government to unify, determine the desired future for the UK, and begin negotiations with the EU for the withdrawal. The EU needs to get down to the business of negotiations that will be fair to the UK and to the EU and stabilize the EU.
Hopefully, these global happenings will give our law students food for thought about democracy, rule of law, leadership, and globalization. How the UK handles Brexit will provide additional lessons on democracy in the next months and years. The importance of democratic processes is front and center for all.
Now we, and our law students, get to watch our own example of democracy as the election process plays out. No matter what our political views, we need to understand our important roles in democracy as citizens and as lawyers who protect those democratic processes and the rule of law. (Amy Jarmon)