In fact, there’s not just one: there are a lot of possible answers. Let’s consider some of them:
1. As in all UK referendums (or referenda), the outcome is non-binding, as sovereignty is said to lie with the UK government.
Therefore, the current UK government can simply just call the whole thing off; put an end to the process; and maybe say the referendum was ‘just a bit of a laugh – nothing serious’!
2. The referendum choice was either to “remain in” or “leave” the European Union. If “remain in” had won, well that’s easy to implement: you just do nothing and carry on.
But, as Paul Simon said, there are “50 ways to leave your lover”. So what is meant by ‘leave’? Cut all ties and never speak to the EU again, as long as we both shall live? Or leave as the best of pals, and perhaps even with all the old benefits of ‘membership’ of the EU. Or something in between (like Mrs May is trying at the moment).
Jacob Viner’s framework for economic integration (The Customs Union Issue, 1950) makes it clear that no man is an island, and there are all possible kinds of possible collaborations between nations: from ‘preferential trading area’ through customs unions/common markets and the like to all-out economic integration.
So really “exit” is impossible. There’s no such thing as Brexit. In other words, the referendum was based on a nonsense.
Again, the government could simply quote Monty Python and say, “Sorry. This is all far too silly. Let’s call the whole thing off.”
3. Just leave! Send the EU an email saying “We’ve left. Bye”; pay any financial penalties for breaking any contracts with the EU, and perhaps spend the next decade or so trying to re-collaborate with them bit by bit.
4. Abolish all import and export tariffs (there are not many of the latter). The government makes no more than £5 billion a year from tariffs. For a country with a GDP of £1.5 trillion a year, it’s not going to make a big hole in its finances.
This would presumably please the Brexiteers, and – as it would likely lead to increased economic activity – it would please Remainers too.
Why would it lead to increased economic activity? Ask an A’ level economics student. Their text books should all state that all tariffs restrict trade and are therefore bad (something many current economists seem to have conveniently forgotten).
Eliminating tariffs would not benefit all producers, of course, but it would benefit all consumers (i.e. the rest of us); and companies doing business in the UK would know where they stood.
It would also put the cat among the pigeons with the EU, which would fear a flood of imports from non-EU countries into the UK, and therefore into the EU via the back door (Ireland). But that’s their problem (or Ireland’s).
Anyway, since when has increased trade, growth and wealth actually been a problem.
And, as for “so-called” Brexit, the EU would probably then chuck Britain out. Problem solved. The government could then spend the next decade or so trying to re-collaborate with them bit by bit.
5.The final answer may be not actually supply lots of possible alternatives to Brexit (such as those above); otherwise we’ll spend another 2 or 3 years arguing about which of these options is best.
Anyway, it’s worth remembering that we so-called Brexiteers and Remainers have much more in common than we realise. We both want to continue trading with Europe, we both want to travel to Europe with a minimum of fuss, re air travel, roaming, etc; we both want a democratic government to look after us (and let’s face it: there’s little difference between EU and UK legislation); and neither of us want to be overwhelmed by immigration either, maybe we’d just disagree about the numbers coming in.
So come on, let’s all party together like it’s May 2016.