Brexit may well never happen

So who sends the notification, and when? Neither the EU charter nor the Brexit referendum specifies. (The vote was nonbinding, although both sides assured voters their decision would be implemented.) Prime Minister David Cameron could plausibly have done it on Friday, but he didn’t. Such a step, he said, should be taken by his successor (probably Johnson). Cameron says he isn’t stepping down until October, so there are at least four months before the trigger is pulled. (EU officials and member governments are pressing the Brits to move quickly, but there’s not much they can do about it, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she’s comfortable with a more leisurely withdrawal.)

Perhaps Johnson—or pro-“Remain” Tory MP Theresa May, or whoever else succeeds Cameron—will make a point of delivering the notification on his or her first day in office. And if the “Leave” crowd is still riding high, that’s what will happen. But that doesn’t seem to be the way things are going—which is why, even after a referendum that has paused global markets and unseated a prime minister, there’s a strong chance that there will never be a Brexit. How will “Leave” voters feel in October, with the pound still down and the revelations about their campaign’s broken promises? Some will still want out, but how many more will have second thoughts? And Johnson knows that as soon as he triggers Article 50 and begins the actual withdrawal process, the markets will plunge again. Is that how he wants his term to begin? (It’s widely believed Johnson’s decision to back “Leave” reflected something other than a deep-seated commitment to the cause.)…

It’s easy to see how a year could pass without an Article 50 notification—at which point, well, the facts on the ground will have changed. (Remember those French and German elections and all their complex implications, whatever they are?) Perhaps the prudent thing to do then would be to call a vote in Parliament (whose members were always firmly on the “Remain” side). Or maybe Johnson, the most popular politician in Britain, would see fit to call a general election in which he’d advocate some kind of sensible middle ground along the lines of “aggressively renegotiating Britain’s membership in the EU.”

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