It seems to me that there is an implied and odd kind of consensus, between those who advocate EU membership and those who don't, that any EU exit will be a final chapter. For many who support membership, such an action would be a "disaster" from which there is apparently no return. Conversely some if not many who oppose membership understandably see exit as a cause of celebration and a job well done - a historical correction finally completed.
What is not in doubt is that any referendum campaign to exit will be difficult, rigged and unfair. What also is not in any doubt is exit, as consequence of an "out" vote, will be difficult, long and protracted. A simple act of parliament cannot magically make the Japanese Knotweed-like-tendencies of the EU - that has acted like an invasive species - disappear over night.
Yet while there would be much to applaud regarding an EU exit, 40 years of very hard work and money could be undone within a space of just a couple of months. The reason? Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty - the accession clause:
Any European State which respects the values referred to in Article 2 and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union. The European Parliament and national Parliaments shall be notified of this application. The applicant State shall address its application to the Council, which shall act unanimously after consulting the Commission and after receiving the assent of the European Parliament, which shall act by an absolute majority of its component members.Let’s assume for the sake of argument Cameron, having won the General Election in 2015, has his EU referendum in 2017 and the “outers” win against all the odds. All well and good, Cameron is then forced to begin negotiations to leave via Article 50.
However...no Parliament may bind its successor. So, despite the expressed will of the people in a referendum, there’s nothing preventing a future government from invoking Article 49 and applying to rejoin. And as history acutely informs us no popular mandate is needed in order to do so. We would be no further forward from 1972 and would have to start all over again.
It's for this reason that I believe the importance of Harrogate's 6 demands is not to get us out but instead to prevent us from ever re-entering such a project again. That should be its successful legacy. EU exit for the UK in my view will probably be dictated by other factors beyond Harrogate.
In some ways membership of the EU may have done us a favour, highlighting dramatically the failings in our own system of governance albeit such a revelation has come with a very very heavy price tag.
By dramatically reforming the way we are governed we can ensure we are better governed than we have ever been before in our history. And ultimately we can prevent the fundamental failings that Tony Benn highlighted during the Maastricht Treaty debate: "no [MP] has the legal or moral authority to hand over powers borrowed from the electors to people who would no longer be accountable to them".
But they did, and will do so again without changes. Exit from the EU is not merely enough.