EU Referendum campaigning was suspended today after the murder of Jo Cox MP. Oddly enough, she was present at the Battle of the Thames that I wrote about last night – although I’m not sure whether she was actually on any of Bob Geldof’s flotilla of boats.
Clearly she was an active campaigner for Remain. But was that why she was shot? Early reports said that the killer had shouted “Britain first!”, but this was fairly rapidly denied. But the Guardian is now repeating the early reports. So maybe she was shot by a Brexit supporter?
If so, it’s a huge blow to the Brexit campaign. Public opinion may well now swing away from Brexit – which has been gaining momentum over the past week -, and back towards Remain.
And there’s unlikely to be much in the way of clarification of what actually happened over the next week – even though the killer was rapidly apprehended walking slowly away -, so it’ll probably all be rumours and counter-rumours for the next week.
But even if the Brexit vote does hold up, an article in the Evening Standard made it plain that the government would not feel bound by a Brexit vote:
Anthony Hilton: Why we may remain even if we vote Leave
Back in 1975, the last time we had a referendum on whether we should continue to be a member of the European Union, the Government spelled out in advance that it would not necessarily do what the people decided.
The Labour government of Harold Wilson made it clear the referendum was advisory — the ultimate opinion poll if you like — but that “the British parliament in Westminster retains the final right to repeal the Act which took us into the Market on January 1, 1973”.
People seem not to understand that this is still the case. The referendum next week is not binding and the result does not constitute a final irrevocable decision either way. People talk about notifying the EU of our intention to leave and then having two years to organise it, but that is not the core issue either. If we are to leave the EU, it will take a fully fledged Act of Parliament to do so. It is hard to see how a notice to quit under Article 50 could be served, given it sets that process in train without the agreement of Parliament.
The article goes on to point out that most MPs in the UK parliament are in favour of remaining in the EU. If the British people vote to leave, will these MPs do what they don’t believe they should do, and pass the appropriate Act of Parliament? Probably not.
Which is roughly what I’ve been predicting all along – which is that if we vote to leave, we’ll be made to stay anyway.