If the electorate votes to leave the EU on the 23rd June some things will change immediately. The very next day, it will become the official policy of the British Government to withdraw from the European Union. The Prime Minister will lead the reconciliation of Remain campaigners to the new order of things. Every Minister in the Government will fall in behind him and pronounce their support for leaving the EU however they might have campaigned.
The entire civil service machine will become absolutely dedicated to delivering the bold new policy of the British Government. The attitude and tone will change. Things that during the campaign were described as impossibilities will suddenly be revealed as far easier than anyone imagined. It will probably transpire that a group in Whitehall had been secretly working on plans to withdraw. It will be a new dawn and the very next day our country will already start to feel the dead weight of the EU lifting from our shoulders.
David Cameron should remain Prime Minister and I think speculation to the contrary is wrong. There is a great deal of sense in having some continuity and very little sense in having a leadership contest immediately after and on top of a vote to leave. A decade ago in the dying days of the Blair era as he thrashed around in desperate search of a legacy other than Iraq, I was an adviser to David Cameron. In one meeting where we were discussing our approach to the Lisbon Treaty, David was warned that his idea for a referendum on Lisbon might lead to the UK being forced out of the EU. He shrugged his shoulders and joked, “Oh well, at least I won’t have to worry about my legacy.” Leaving the EU is not the legacy David Cameron wants but it’s not a bad legacy to have. He could play an important role in reconciling other European leaders to the decision the country had taken and would be best placed to do it. In many ways David Cameron’s position is safer after a Leave vote. The Conservative Party would forgive him for the way he maxed out and used the Government machine to give an unfair advantage to the Remain campaign, but only if he lost the referendum in the end.
None of the leadership hopefuls has any incentive to move early. David Cameron has said he is going in a couple of years anyway so what’s the rush? Leadership contenders who had campaigned to leave would not want to ruin it by demonstrating ugly haste. Leadership hopefuls from the losing side would hope that time will be a healer and will want to wait until their error of judgement was forgotten.
The only final consideration is whether David Cameron would feel duty bound to resign as he said he would have done (after the event) had the Scottish referendum gone the wrong way. I do not think the two compare.
For Conservatives, the United Kingdom is a union that really matters and with its loss a part of what we are as a country would have died. The European Union is expendable: a somewhat irritating set up that we have reluctantly tolerated over the years but which has only ever been a passing phase in our history.
In a series of articles published by Portland, Vote Leave campaigners Michael Gove and George Eustice clash with some of Britain’s most experienced diplomats on the question at the heart of Britain’s EU referendum: what would happen if Britain votes for Brexit on 23rd June?
Click here to read George Eustice MP for Camborne and Redruth article in full.
Measurement and evaluation