Great Britain stunned the world on Thursday by voting by a modest but decisive margin to leave the European Union. All the ramifications of the vote have yet to be measured, but one thing is certain: the UK may look radically different in a few years as a result of ’’Brexit”.
The politicians and pundits, as well as the so-called “smart money” in the financial sector, were taken by surprise, and the financial markets were rocked around the globe. The smell of panic in the air was palpable, as those who bet wrong on the outcome tried in vain to unwind their financial bets.
It remains to be seen how deep and sustainable the fallout will be in the markets, and its impact on national economies. But beyond the financial fiasco, questions are raised on other matters relating to EU laws and practices, and how a soon to be unhinged UK will behave going forward on issues such as privacy and data protection.
Personally, I’m not certain, but am definitely not sanguine, about ’’Brexit”, because there are more shoes to drop in this drama. I don’t just mean the ’’leave the EU’’ rhetoric and sabre-rattling that is occurring in places such as France or the Netherlands, whose right-wing parties are clamoring for their countries to exit the EU.
Of greater concern and exigence is the threat closer to home in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Scotland, you may remember, in a 2014 referendum weighing whether or not to leave the UK, was coaxed to stay, and thus continue to reap the benefits of automatic EU affiliation. That reason for staying has now vanished, and, even as I write this, leaders of Scotland, led by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, are meeting to discuss renewing a secessionist referendum. Sturgeon has now called this ’’highly likely”.
At the time of the 2014 election, sixty-two percent of Scottish voters backed remaining in the EU, and Sturgeon said that it was “democratically unacceptable” for Scotland to be taken out of the EU in this fashion, and without recourse.
Scotland’s decision to hold a second referendum would have to be agreed by the UK Parliament. At this point, with the political situation in confusion due to PM David Cameron’s decision to step down in a few months, the Scottish question remains up in the air.
Northern Ireland may also soon follow suit, given its decades of strife with Britain and now seeing a viable alternative in the EU for autonomy and potential economic gain in addition. Sturgeon is already talking of convening a meeting of EU officials to discuss ways to “protect Scotland’s relationship with the EU and our place in the single market”.
In some quarters there is worry that the vote, which on one hand will free the UK from Brussels, will unshackle surveillance agencies such as GCHQ from EU oversight and regulation and embolden them to run roughshod over individuals’ privacy rights. It is for certain that there will be consequences. “The legal and constitutional implications of the Brexit vote cannot easily be exaggerated,” says Mark Elliott, a professor of public law at the University of Cambridge.
Britain will have to rewrite many of its laws, many of which are bound to affect privacy. Brexit is “very likely to lead to a significant reduction on cooperation in criminal and policing matters between the UK and the EU,” says Steve Peers, a professor of law at the University of Essex .
The leaving process is likely to take about two years, during which time Britain must adhere to its obligations under EU treaties. Peers added that “EU law remains applicable in the UK. and has priority over UK law.” The burden of proof, therefore, will fall upon Britain to ensure that its intrusive mass surveillance policies don’t contravene existing EU la, nor trample on EU citizens’ privacy rights.
While it is the hope that Britain brings it’s laws into line with the rest of Europe (because this is morally right), the issue is likely to come down to dollars and cents – or more accurately pounds and euros! The matter can thus be distilled into one of economics. Britain’s privacy and surveillance practices going forward, even after Article 50 is invoked and runs its course, will be adhered to if it wants to do business with the EU – collectively the largest economy in the world.
Editor’s comment: Stan appears to be unaware of the recently passed Snoopers’ Charter.