Well, nearer 38, really but cut me some slack here, people. Please?
This is possibly not going to be terribly coherent, and it is pretty long, now I look, but I wanted to write down some thoughts about what everything means, at least in my own mind as I see them now. It’s not a violent screed against the voters of one side or the other, so whichever side you support, I won’t be taking personal potshots at you. It’s not that kind of post, and I don’t think I’m that kind of person. At least, I try not to be.
Yesterday, I just felt despair. And anger. Lots of anger. Today, the haze has cleared a little and a number of things are coming into focus. I chose remain. Some of my friends didn’t. We talked about it. We disagreed, but at least there was a reasonable discussion going on. Which is probably why I ignored most of the so-called landmark showpieces in what was laughingly described as the “debate”. Those who didn’t were not impressed.
A little bit of a moan first, but it is even-handed so don’t panic.
First, to any of those who voted leave telling remain voters to “Get over it” or “Grow a pair. You lost”, you should consider what your reaction would have been had the result gone the other way with a similar margin. This was not a huge, commanding win. Remember too that Farage was talking about trying to get a second go had leave lost narrowly, and that there were darker hints of less peaceful means shoulld “the people” not get what they wanted. And these were things he said on broadcast TV, so can’t really be denied.
Conversely, to all of you (2 million. Really?) signing the petition, or screaming for a second referendum, get get over yourselves and stop whining; it ain’t happening. At least not yet, but I’ll return to that later. The vote was advisory, but it was acted upon by the government. This was the will of the people. That is a fact. To start screaming for another referendum this soon would, not incorrectly, be seen as sour grapes.
The aftermath, or #braftermath if you want something more Twitter friendly, is now beginning to dawn on some, however. Some sincerely wanted out, but others seem to have cast a vote not really expecting the leave side to win. Today’s Daily Mail (and no, I will not link to that rag, google it yourself it you must – I won’t give them the link traffic) started to lay out the consequences. Some of their readers might just be repenting at leisure. There were supposedly comments like “So the Remain side wasn’t lying?” and “why didn’t you publish this information before the vote?”. This is both interesting and relevant; again, we’ll come back to that later
Yesterday’s events in the currency and financial markets were alarming, but they’re short term. Markets are notoriously sensitive to shocks. But just like weather is not the same as climate, a single day’s trading is not going to give us an indication of future trends yet. We may have to wait until the end of this year to get a clearer picture of how the trends will turn out. Besides, many already have a visceral mistrust of the financial markets, so pain there is not likely to elicit sympathy. At least not until some of those older voters start to consider the effect of this on pension income. While this might be the case, those in government will be more than aware that the economy is disproportionately dependent upon financial services. Any weakening of this is not good news f the
And that’s before we even get to this morning, and the developments in Edinburgh and Europe. To those whose thought were, “they need us more than we need them“, today’s response might be sobering. Perhaps people were expecting something else other than, “You want to go? Well hurry up and go. Start now”. But why should we have done? While the EU are saying that negotiations are going to be “reasonable”, to me that seems to indicate that they are not going to hurry to offer concessions.
Even for a remainer like me, the Remain campaign was spectacularly inept, and it’s commonly agreed, I think, that Cameron’s role in it has Ben particularly so. His presence has had the indelible mark of the very worst sense of complacent arrogance. It is still possible he will be forever remembered as the man who destroyed the Union, and its penultimate Prime Minister, but it’s not inevitable yet. But this was the man who very nearly pushed Scotland to independence once already, and has been the master of the short-term tactical fix. Unfortunately, this has been at the expense of any coherent sense of strategy. Brexit has opened up not just the possibility of a Scottish secession, but the very real possibility of the reunification of Ireland, as the combination of the dissolution of the Union, support for the possible stability of EU membership and the issue of land frontiers is likely to push Unionism in Northern Irelamd into an existential crisis: how can Unionism survive without the Union?
However, possibly the single sensible thing Cameron did before washing his hands and walking away from the mess he has created was not to invoke the exit procedure laid out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, whose two year deadline is fixed.
Which brings me to the issue of who’s going to be doing the negotiating. Already, everyone is assuming Johnson will proceed al out to Coronation. I’m not so sure. The fissures in the Conservative Party over Europe are still deep, and Johnson’s Damascene conversion to leave have not convinced many in his own party. If he’s not seen as electorally advantageous, they might think twice. If the article 50 button is pressed, the two year deadline starts to tick. Unpicking our relationship will involve every part of our government. Domestic policy is going to slide to a halt, because those negotiations are going to be complex, and costly in person hours. . And that’s before the process of beginning negotiation of trade agreements even starts. We may have negotiate a lot of them (the EU has over fifty), and we may not have enough people with experience of trade deals to get good ones. Also notice the lack of supportive statements so far from all of those international partners who would supposedly be queuing up to do business with us.
As the summer wears on, we may get a better idea of what plans may emerge for how the government will approach those exit talks. There is very obviously no plan now, and the campaign leaders have gone mostly very quiet. All except Farage, but honestly, his relevance may already be waning. He is the leader of a party whose primary reason to exist has now, ostensibly, been satisfied, and worse, he may soon not have a United Kingdom for it to operate within. What will that mean for those providing financial backing for his party? What will it mean for him?
Many people voted leave for reasons which are not directly related to the EU at all. The immigration issue hit a chord. For those in skilled jobs the issue is less pronounced. But if you are living, for example, on a northern council estate, and stuck in low-wage low-skilled jobs, or struggling to find a job that will pay the bills at all, these concerns are more pressing. You are competing in a tough labour market. However, much of this is about policy failings at the national level, with the EU actually providing much of the economic development infrastructure fat does exist. A change of personnel in Westminster is not going to improve this; indeed, Scottish and Irish secession from the Union are likely to make things even worse. England is already skewed to the Conservatives; those in the industrial northern cities are going to find little of cheer if they want a change of government. There will of course be lots and lots of promises, but this will be to an electorate who don’t trust politicians, and will want almost instant results.. If the economy weakens, these people are going to be even more angry. Having stoked up some of that anger, it will be a grave error if the Westminster politicos think that they will be able to put the “great unwashed” back in their box.
The easy way for any government to try and distract attention from all of these things is to try and stoke up a sense of English nationalism. That could get very ugly, very quickly, and might have serious implications for organisations who have, and need to retain, a more internationalised outlook. Universities are just one example of this.
Earlier I talked about the referendum being the fixed will of the people. That’s not quite true. Any referendum result captures the will of the people at a single moment in time. It’s not fixed: it’s mobile. Opinions can change, and the process of negotiation (and even the informal period before formal ones start, that might last over summer) might mean a significant shift in the public mood.
tl;dr Brexit is not a done deal yet. There’s much more mileage in this.