First published on Newsnet.scot on 20 November 2013 as part of a series of articles on constitutional issues published between July 2012 and Sept 2014.
Brexit proponents have not even begun think through the ramifications of a UK withdrawal.
If Westminster really wants to go through with an in/out referendum on EU adhesion, they must at least allow each country/territory within the UK to either opt out of a referendum and remain in, or allow each to vote separately and remain in if that is their will. If they don’t, it will rend asunder the UK and possibly the EU.
Let us consider the process whereby the UK would leave the EU, under article 50 of the Lisbon treaty:
- Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
- A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
- The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period. (…)
- If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.
So for the UK to successfully extract itself from the EU, it would have to engage in a minimum 2-year period to unravel the highly complex multilateral and reciprocal web of legal, budgetary, financial, political, personal, and commercial relationships, obligations and liabilities. At the same time, it would have to negotiate what status it would retain from without the EU.
Even Nigel Farage has expressed a desire to remain in the common market, but this may be impossible to retain. Like Norway as a member of the European Economic Area, they would have to negotiate entry, but this would be following a withdrawal from the EU, which could take years. Even if the UK were able to achieve this status, it would still have to comply with EU trade rules without having any influence over them.
Say for example the UK holds a referendum on April 1, 2017, votes to leave, negotiates for 2 years, thus gaining ‘independence’ at the midnight hour of April 1, 2019, after which all EU treaties would no longer apply.
Westminster Europhobes should begin to consider some of the consequences for the UK exiting the EU, both within and without. Given the economic hell much of Europe is going through, respect for EU treaties may be all that prevents even more serious social and political disruption, the nature of which is impossible to predict, other than being potentially catastrophic.
Gibraltar will be leaving the network of treaties which help prevent the Spanish from taking it over, whether they want to or not. Any peacekeeping mechanisms within EU institutions will no longer be applicable.
The reaction of Spain is worrying for other reasons. There is much destitution due to the economic crisis, in addition to hostility towards possible Catalan independence. For all the disparagement of foreigners’ ‘benefit tourism’ in the UK, there are tens of thousands of UK citizens live in Spain, enjoying the good weather, and benefitting from their health system and benefits.
Given the tensions over Gibraltar, would a brexit lead the Spanish to expel all UK citizens, deporting these refugees back to where they came from? Would the Spanish government hire advert trucks exhorting UK citizens to ‘go home’ in English, or worse? We don’t have to look back far in Spanish and European history to see parallels, and the same could befall UK citizens elsewhere in Europe.
Mass deportations of UK citizens back ‘home’ would make an already difficult immigration, employment, and housing situation drastically worse. Westminster would have no institutional mechanisms to prevent this, because the treaties protecting their citizens throughout the EU would be nullified.
While unionists have made much of economic uncertainty over Scottish independence, this pales in comparison to the chaos that would ensue if the UK voted to undo all of the business and trade treaties which have been realized through membership in the EU.
Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn has already stated that the status of subsidiary Nissan factories in the UK would be re-evaluated if they vote to withdraw. Expect business and finance warnings to increase in intensity and scope as the Westminster EU referendum death march continues.
Would Northern Ireland now have to impose border controls on the Republic of Ireland, since some have held Scotland leaving the UK would result in result in border controls with England?
Would Scotland and Wales be obliged to expel all EU citizens living, working, and studying in their territory, even those married with children? Would families be ripped apart, as they often are in the US with undocumented immigrants?
Does any of this sound strikingly familiar to the scare stories being peddled by the unionists, which are mostly predicated on Scotland being not only outside of the UK but also the EU?
While these scenarios remain hypothetical, they can very quickly become self-fulfilling prophecies when the treaties which prevent them are wilfully annulled.
The principal distinction is that if Scots vote for democratic self-governance they would not be voting to leave the EU, they already are in conformity with all treaties, and there is nothing in the treaties which provides for depriving EU citizens of their citizenship against their will. The UK voting to leave the EU would constitute a deliberate decision to renounce their citizenship, which is provided for in the treaties.
It may well be that the large population concentration in the south-east of England would vote to leave the EU. That is their right, and the rest of England would have to follow. However, this does not mean that the other countries within the UK should be wrenched out of the EU against their will. If they were, it is difficult to understate the potential for even more chaos, and disruption.
It is therefore imperative that the EU quickly provide a definitive answer to the question of territories of member states remaining members if that is their will, not only for Scotland and Catalonia but also for Wales and Northern Ireland.
This will allow England to go through its EU catharsis without depriving the rest of the UK of their EU citizenship, and allow Scotland and Catalonia to seamlessly retain their citizenship and become member states in their own right upon independence.
If the EU can make a communist dictatorship an instant member, as they did with East Germany in 1990, they can figure this out. Their legitimacy is at stake, and the clock is ticking.