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Brexit: The will of the people

On the day the UK triggers Article 50, many are wondering whether the shot will be fatal, or whether there is still hope that the patient will recover

‘Trigger’ is the trending word in Britain, both as a noun and as a verb. For months now, politicians and the media have been discussing the day when Article 50 would finally be triggered, invoking a clause that formally declares Britain’s unilateral determination to leave the European Union (EU). This Wednesday, they finally did it.

Britain formally begins the process to leave the EU.

What many people wonder now is whether the shot will be fatal, or whether there is still hope that the English patient will recover from its bullet to the head; whether there is no way to backtrack, or whether there is still a chance for the UK to remain in the EU.

More than a few Britons would like to hold a second referendum: 48% of them voted to remain at the referendum held on June 23 of last year. And there are more than a few members of parliament who are proposing a vote at Westminster to ratify – or not – whatever agreement may be reached after two years of negotiations with Brussels.

A British prime minister once said that a week is a long time in politics

The Conservative government of Prime Minister Theresa May has opposed both possibilities. She and her subordinates keep repeating like a mantra that “the will of the people” must be respected, conveying a sacred meaning to the phrase, as though it were heresy to question the result of a referendum in which a vast majority of people voted with little awareness of the material consequences of abandoning the EU.

David Davis, the secretary of state in charge of managing Brexit, finally offered an explanation on Monday as to why the government will not even accept a parliamentary vote on the final agreement: because it would give Europeans on the other side of the table another incentive to get tough on the British and condemn them to an agreement manifestly detrimental to their country’s economy.

What Davis did not say, nor anyone else for that matter, is that there is a constitutional reason for prohibiting such a vote (clearly, there isn’t) or for preventing a second referendum. And since other members of the European Union know no such impediments exist, the incentive that Mr Davis was referring to will remain present in the minds of negotiators in Brussels.

Mrs May’s intransigent rhetoric is not the law of the land

A British prime minister once said that a week is a long time in politics. Two years are an eternity. Or at least, time enough for all sorts of things to happen (a presidential impeachment in the United States?), including the possibility that Britons will think it over and realize that, rather than allowing the UK to “be great again,” Brexit has only diminished their country economically, politically, militarily and morally.

The will of the people is not etched in stone. Mrs May’s intransigent rhetoric is not the law of the land. If a day should come when the people start clamoring for another referendum, or perhaps for a general election focusing on acceptance or rejection of Britain’s negotiated exit from the EU, the government will not be able to ignore it. Given a second chance, someone set on suicide may yet have a change of heart.

English version by Susana Urra.

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