The people of the United Kingdom (UK) have decided to leave the European Union (EU). More accurately, a divided people of a disunited kingdom have voted by a majority of less than 4% to quit a Union they had joined 43 years ago.
Scotland, Northern Ireland and London were on one side of the divide while England and Wales were on the other.
Most young people voted to ‘remain’ while most older people voted to ‘leave’.
The vote to leave may not unravel the European Union but it threatens to unravel the United Kingdom and has raised the question ‘Why did Prime Minister Cameron decide to hold a referendum?’
The UK is a parliamentary democracy, not a plebiscitary democracy. Policies and laws are made by Parliament, not by the people directly. Mr Cameron gambled on a referendum to quell an internal rebellion within the Conservative party and failed. The cardinal rule of politics is that ‘never call a referendum (or a vote) unless you are certain that the outcome will be in your favour’. Mr Cameron violated the rule. Why? Because he assumed, like many elected leaders, that since he enjoyed the support of a majority in Parliament he enjoyed the support of a majority of the people as well. That was a fatal mistake.
The people’s vote is defined by the time and the context of the vote. But times change, the context also may change.
The majority that a leader won in a parliamentary election will endure for the duration of the term, but the leader may have lost the support of the people at large.
The leader may indeed be standing where he stood, but the ground may have shifted under his feet. Most prime ministers are loath to accept the fact that they may have lost the support of the people—at least on some crucial issues.
Mr Cameron miscalculated his support on issues such as immigration, jobs and multi-culturalism. He was absolutely right in taking the position—as any decent, thinking man would—that Britain was a better country because it was multicultural; that jobs that the British people did not want to do had to be done by someone and the immigrants were willing to do those jobs; and that being part of the EU, despite the obtrusive and oppressive bureaucracy in Brussels, was good for the British economy. Many people thought like Mr Cameron, but many more thought otherwise.
As a result of the vote taken on June 23, British politics has imploded. The UK is effectively without a Prime Minister and without a Leader of the Opposition.
31% vs 69%