Justice Minister Michael Gove gave a big speech on Tuesday outlining why he believes the UK should leave the EU, but Brexit conspiracy theorists believe he actually let slip his secret agenda — to keep Britain in the EU. Gove is one of seven cabinet ministers backing a Brexit and he gave his speech on behalf of the official Leave campaign, Vote Leave.
The purpose of Gove’s speech was to reassure people thinking about voting to leave the EU, that it is a sensible and safe thing to do. He mocked the scaremongering tactics he said were being used by Remain campaigners and had an answer to many of the criticisms that have been made against the Leave campaign. For instance, he also said there wouldn’t be any problems for Britain to continue being in the European Free Trade Zone because the EU’s trade deficit with Britain means it will be in the EU’s interest to maintain current trade agreements.
He also had an answer to one of the biggest concerns about voting to leave the EU — the time it will take to renegotiate everything.
Here’s the issue. If the Leave campaign wins the referendum, the government isn’t obliged to follow any specific legislative path in order to break the UK’s ties with the EU. In fact, since strictly speaking the referendum isn’t legally binding — the government could, in theory, choose not to do anything at all.
Of course, the government won’t completely ignore a Leave vote in the referendum and will pursue one of two options. They will invoke article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty or they will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act — the two options work quite differently.
To invoke article 50, the government needs to write to the European Commission telling them that they want to leave. That will kick start a two-year process of negotiating the future relationship between the EU and the UK. If, after two years, no agreement has been reached, the Lisbon Treaty which is the constitutional basis of the EU stops applying the country.
Repealing the 1972 European Communities Act is the nuclear option. If the government was to do that, the UK would instantly stop being a member of the EU.
Now, this is where is gets complicated. Hold on to your tinfoil hats …
David Cameron has said that if there is a Leave vote, he will invoke article 50 straight away. It makes sense for Cameron, who is campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU to say this. If he were to leave it open to speculation, it could give people the impression that if they vote to leave, it’s not really final, and a leave vote could be used to renegotiate better terms for Britain within the EU. If this impression was sold by Leave campaigners, it could help convince nervous voters to stick their necks out and vote to quit the EU.
Cameron’s assertion that he will invoke article 50 presents a big problem for Leave campaigners — two years is a really short amount of time for the UK to untangle itself from the EU and renegotiate everything from scratch. That’s why Gove offered what appeared to be a possible solution to time constraint problems in his speech on Tuesday.
Here’s what he said, the added emphasis is ours.
It has been argued that the moment Britain votes to leave a process known as “Article 50” is triggered whereby the clock starts ticking and every aspect of any new arrangement with the EU must be concluded within two years of that vote being recorded — or else … But there is no requirement for that to occur — quite the opposite.
Logically, in the days after a vote to Leave the Prime Minister would discuss the way ahead with the Cabinet and consult Parliament before taking any significant step. Preliminary, informal, conversations would take place with the EU to explore how best to proceed.
It would not be in any nation’s interest artificially to accelerate the process and no responsible government would hit the start button on a two-year legal process without preparing appropriately. Nor would it be in anyone’s interest to hurry parliamentary processes. We can set the pace. We will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, which automatically gives EU law legal force. But we can change it on our terms at a time of our choosing.
Yep, Gove says we can use the nuclear option of repealing the European Communities Act — but use it responsibly. He says Britain should take as long as it likes to renegotiate things, then when everything is sorted, repeal the Act to withdraw from the union.
This is the bit from Gove’s speech that some pro-Brexit campaigners are worried about — but to understand why, you need a bit of history.
There are two big pro-Leave referendum campaigns. Vote Leave, which was made the official campaign by the electoral commission and Leave.EU. There is a lot of mistrust between the campaigns. Some people in Leave.EU believe that the leadership of Vote Leave don’t really want Britain to leave the EU — especially the Conservative government ministers who they view with deep suspicion.
Their theory is that instead of leaving the EU, the Vote Leave “soft” Eurosceptics want to stay in the EU but renegotiate things a bit in Britain’s favour. That’s why they are are so scared by what Gove said on Tuesday — they think what he secretly wants is to hold a second referendum.
Business Insider has been told by numerous Leave.EU members and supporters that they think Gove and Vote Leave would use a Leave vote in the June referendum as leverage to negotiate better deals between the EU and the UK. Then, somehow, with these new deals secured, they would make the case that the renegotiated deals need to be put to a new referendum.
This is a serious concern for Leave.EU, which claims to have over 700,000 supports. Just take a look at this tweet that they sent that has since been deleted.
“It’s no laughing matter. They’re trying to keep us in,” a long-standing Eurosceptic who is opposed to the Vote Leave campaign told Business Insider. “[Gove’s] boss at the Vote Leave group has now advocated, multiple times, for a ‘double referendum’ — and real Eurosceptics don’t want that,” they added.
The thing is, they’re not wrong.
Vote Leave director Dominic Cummings has been supportive of having two referendums in the past — albeit, the second one would be on the “the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU.” And they’re right that it’s not a laughing matter — for the Leave campaign at least.
Polls show that the Remain campaign, which only has one major campaign group backing it, is consistently in the lead. If the two Leave groups don’t work together, it will only make it harder for them to overtake Remain before the June 23 vote.