With Portugal, Germany, Italy and countless other European voices appealing to Britain to “Stay with Us” this week, there is a side to the referendum ‘debate’ that has hardly made it into the papers. Other than by UK tabloid the Daily Mail, it has barely been touched. But it is a message that will bring relief to the two million ‘disenfranchised’ expats who live in Portugal and other European countries, and who have lost their voting rights due to the “15-year rule”.
The nuts and bolts of the message is that “there can be no Brexit, even if the Leave vote wins on Thursday”.
The “bizarre scenario”, according to the Mail, is possible because “the national ballot is only advisory”.
There would have to be a parliamentary vote before Britain could start any kind of Leave process – and it is quite clear that the majority of MPs support staying.
Writing on the Spectator’s website on June 7, David Cameron’s father-in-law Lord Astor set this all out, saying: “If the Brexiteers win, an exit from the EU is actually not deliverable. The EU referendum has no legal standing to force an exit. Parliament is still sovereign.”
In Portugal, political observer, former leader of MPT-Earth Party, dual Portuguese-British national and firm Remain campaigner, John Rosas Baker, confirmed this, telling us: “Referenda in the UK are not legally binding. Parliament must make the final decision.”
Rosas Baker added that he could not see any government “not respecting the will of the people” – but this was very possibly an attempt at humour.
Certainly expats here with money invested in Partners Capital LLP have been left with few doubts.
An email dated June 15 informed Europe-domiciled investors that “the most important point to note is that a Leave majority on June 23 may not lead to the UK exiting the EU. As many of you may already have come to realise, there is no legal obligation on the Government to act as a result of the Referendum in the case of a Leave vote, nor any timetable for action.
“Several commentators have mistakenly assumed that there is such an obligation and that there is a two-year window for action.
“What will actually happen in the event of a Leave majority is that the government will need to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Only when a motion to invoke Article 50 is passed by parliamentary vote will it become inevitable that the UK will leave the EU and the two-year clock will start to tick.
“Partners Capital believe that the likely political implications of a Leave vote will be: a) a period of re-negotiation with Brussels to secure more favourable terms for the UK; b) an immediate change in leadership within the Conservative party; and c) possibly, an early General Election, called to ratify the new Conservative leader.
“Should there be an early General Election, then this will effectively become a second referendum on UK membership of the EU and is likely to be based on improved terms from Brussels.”
This upbeat message ends with the company’s view that “any negative market reaction to a Leave vote is most likely to be short-lived” though it may require the “rebalancing” of certain client business.
Thus ‘behind the scenes’ the furore that this debate has been creating for months would appear to be fairly spurious. How Brits voting Leave in the UK may come to feel about this remains to be seen, but certainly for expats ‘fearing a Brexit’ in Portugal, the news is positive.
Portugal watches keenly from within and without
Thousands of Portuguese living in the UK have been following this debate as powerless to vote as expats here. With the majority desperate for a Remain victory, here minister for foreign affairs Augusto Santos Silva has said he believes the country could handle a Brexit “better than other countries” but that it would almost certainly create a domino effect within the community.
Europe would have to “keep its cool”, he told negócios online – “not panic”. A Brexit vote “would not signify the end of the EU”.
But it would very possibly force change.
Europe needs to change, affirms EC president
Visiting Lisbon on Monday, president of the European Council Donald Tusk took time out from discussions with prime minister António Costa and President of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa to stress not only that Britain should “Stay with Us” but that Europe has to change.
“Whatever (the referendum) result is going to be, we must take a long, hard look on the future of the Union,” he told TV cameras, with Costa standing by his side.
“We would be foolish if we ignored such a warning signal as the UK referendum.
“There are more signals of dissatisfaction with the Union, coming from all of Europe, not only from the UK.”
And this is the rub – the “nub of the issue”. We may never know whether all this IN/OUT hysteria has simply been a clever chess game designed to force Brussels’ hand into delivering ‘a better deal for Britain’. But one thing seems certain, expats throughout Europe will not be waking up on Friday to discover they have all suddenly become illegal immigrants overnight.
And with any luck, there will be hours of sunshine ahead and a clear horizon.
By NATASHA DONN [email protected]
Photo: Members of the public take part in a kiss chain at a stay in, pro EU Referendum event in Parliament Square, Central London, on June 19
Photo by: EPA/HAYOUNG JEON