Jonathan Owen

How California could be heading for its own version of Brexit

How California could be heading for its own version of Brexit
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On the face of it, Brits and Californians don't have much in common: one prefers a spot of Earl Grey, the other misguidedly quaffs health-faddish Kombucha. Yet Californians and Englishmen may agree on one thing: self-government. Many golden state separatists see the successful Brexit campaign as an inspiration. In fact, on the official 'Yes California Independence' website, the president of the movement - Louis J Marinelli - mentions Brexit and what it could mean for his fellow Calexiteers:

In 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the international community with their 'Brexit' vote. Our 'Calexit' referendum is about California joining the international community. You have a big decision to make.

Supporters of a plan for the state to secede from the union and become the independent Republic of California took their first formal step on 21 November. They submitted a proposed ballot measure to the state attorney general's office, and hope to gather enough signatures for a statewide vote as soon as 2018.

There are a number of reasons why California's attempt at a split has parallels with Brexit. Supporters of the golden state's secession believe they pay more than their fair share in taxes to the federal government than they receive in federal aid (78 cents received for every tax dollar spent), in much the same way the British surrendered £350m a week to the EU.

Like the Britons who voted 'leave', those in the Californian separatist movement feel that unpopular trade policies are foisted upon them, making it more difficult and expensive for their companies to do business. Even pro-business moderates resent being dragged into the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement that clashes with its agenda. One key difference in the two movements is that Brits seem fed up with the burden of immigration, whereas Californians welcome it and promise to defy Trump’s efforts at deporting undesirable illegal aliens.

Many naysayers scoff at a potential Balkanisation of the United States. However, with the success of Brexit and Trump, nothing is impossible. If the measure were to gather the necessary support on the California ballot and pass muster, it would need to be ratified by a two-thirds majority in Congress.

According to the 'Calexiteers', a state does have the power to break off. The U.S. Constitution does not prohibit the secession of a state from the union. Yet, a ratified amendment would not be sufficient. The Supreme Court, in Texas v. White ruled that a state's secession from the union would have to be approved by a 'Yes' vote from the legislature of at least 25 states.

The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution holds that treaties made under its authority—like the accord made with the UN which guarantees self-determination of peoples - are manifest with the supreme law of the land. Therefore, the Californian separatist movement sees a theoretical, albeit ludicrous, path to sovereignty. And, somewhat bizarrely, the inspiration to follow this path comes from Brexit.