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  • Prof Eric Miller, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles

Guest blog: The wrong Referenda

It has become increasingly clear over the last two years that the UK, embracing direct government more than any time in its past, has had the wrong referenda. Scots voted by a small-but-significant margin to pursue a future together with the rest of the United Kingdom. Then the United Kingdom voted by a much slimmer margin to exit the European Union.

But buried within that second referendum (and the southern reaction to the first one) was a hidden, third one. The results of that third one should be made explicit before the decision to exit the European Union becomes final. For within that vote was a decision by England and Wales—legally and historically a distinct national group—to go it one way, and by the rest of the UK to go it another way.

The only remaining question is: do they want to do it on their own, without the rest of us, or are they insistent on dragging the rest of us down with them.

A referendum allowing the United Kingdom a vote on whether England—or for sake of consistency, England and Wales (or for sake of decency, England or Wales)—should remain within the United Kingdom, could solve many of the UK's problems at once. If an England-less United Kingdom results, then the United Kingdom (now minus England or Wales) could vote to reverse the results of Brexit. England to go its own way, alone, outside the EU and the United Kingdom. Equally importantly, the question of the Irish Border is instantly solved: the EU would now end at Hadrian's Wall (more or less). And the result of Brexit could be preserved and more narrowly tailored to those who overwhelmingly want to leave.

Brexit appears to be a policy driven mostly by English nationalism and anti-globalism. These appear to be stances that are not shared by the rest of the United Kingdom. If a United Kingdom without England seems absurd or unthinkable, how more absurd or unthinkable is a no-deal Brexit? How immoral is it that predominantly English intra-party and inter-party squabbling is immiserating the rest of the country, with potentially fatal consequences across the Irish Sea?

It is past time to formalize the rise of English nationalism, and to restrict its consequences to its staunchest proponents. Let's end the madness, by having the right referendum, and allowing England—and Wales if it wants—to go it alone without the rest of us. All of us would be happier, seeing our regional and European ambitions solved in one stroke: Brexit for those who wanted it; Europe for those who did not.

Eric Miller is Professor of Law, and Leo J. O'Brien Fellow, at the Loyola Law School, Los Angeles

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