Thursday’s referendum showed a relatively solid majority of British voters in favor of withdrawing from the European Union, and that’s all anyone has been talking about since. But will it ever actually happen? That’s not as clear.
The referendum itself is “not binding,” which has some anti-Brexit MPs suggesting they can just ignore the vote entirely and keep the status quo in place, like it never happened. That might be a tall order with pro-Brexit Boris Johnson likely to be the next prime minister, but even he says he’s in no hurry to actually start the process.
Even if he does, and even if a British parliament that is strongly anti-Brexit acquiesces and passes legislation supportive of the referendum’s wishes, the coast is far from clear, as the Scottish Parliament would also be allowed to “veto” any such legislation if they felt it was in their national interest to do so.
Which they do. Scotland overwhelmingly voted in favor of remaining in the EU, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon affirmed that the Scottish parliament would strongly consider withholding legislative consent from the Brexit.
Scotland just had a vote on secession from the United Kingdom back in 2014, which failed, and polls show an overwhelming majority in favor of secession now, driven by a desire to remain in the EU, with or without England.
While a lot of British officials are sweating the possibility of losing Scotland, Northern Ireland, or both as part of the Brexit, that might be the only way a Brexit is able to happen, because the ability of the national parliaments of Scotland and Northern Ireland to “withhold consent” and effectively block any legislation poses a major obstacle to any Brexit legislation.
That might be a relief to the anti-Brexit MPs, giving them a bit of political cover to ignore the referendum. Holding what has been the most newsworthy referendum in a generation and then ignoring the result, however, could itself fuel considerable anger within the UK.