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Comment: Brexit or Bremain - A question still open?

Tuesday 12 July 2016

Now Britain has voted to leave the EU, Professor George Saridakis examines the post-referendum landscape.

Professor George Saridakis

A referendum forms an integral part of a democratic system. It is a valuable instrument which citizens can use to; influence policy, change or reinforce an existing stance and, ultimately, carve new paths and destinies. On Thursday 23 June the British voters decided to leave the European Union by a margin of
52 per cent to 48 per cent.

The question that needs to be asked, though, is ‘does this result deliver a clear-cut message to UK leaders?’ It is hard to give a positive answer to that in the midst of a disunited Kingdom, a divided England, and a generation clash.

In the end, democracy goes beyond numbers – it serves the public interest and strengthens societal cohesion. The EU referendum had an advisory role (i.e. the result was not legally binding). It could be argued that various parameters should be collectively taken into account before explaining the outcome and proceeding with decision-making. These include: the complexity of the subject matter; the level of public information and understanding; the timing of the referendum; the public turnout that was achieved; and, finally, the voting thresholds.

The current atmosphere differs from how it felt in 1975 when Britain’s membership in the European Economic Community was endorsed by the UK as a whole – including the vast majority of voters – with England and Wales being core supporters of EU integration at that time.

In contrast, after the recent referendum, the dilemma of whether or not to withdraw from the EU has become more acute for the UK as the signs of a fall-out, the degree of importance and understanding of a Brexit direction and a lack of alternative strategic planning have become apparent.

Democracy is resilient in restraining the forces of uncertainty and turmoil and has protective shields which can prevent a social, economic and/or political meltdown and the associated spill-over effects. It does, however, require authentic leadership.

After the EU referendum, an economic uncertainty and political chaos (with the out and in chief captains abandoning ship before a U-turn can be attempted) have prevailed in the UK, and polarisation and fear have been on the increase.

The EU referendum provides an opportunity for the UK to be the architect in building a better Europe. It delivers an additional eye-opening and clear message to the EU that its functions should change, institutional trust should be regained and policy should be re-designed.

It is not only the EU-UK relationship that should be taken into perspective, but also unity within the UK, and, even more importantly, the safeguarding of the European vision that includes such important values as peace, freedom and equality.

Hence, the debate, interest and effort of all should address the root causes rather than the symptoms of wounded Europe. It would be sad to one day look back and say we tried to build a united Europe but just failed.

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