In the cold light of dawn after the seismic result of the UK referendum, the balls which had been blasted into space are gradually falling to earth and reality is taking hold. What is done can’t be undone and the truth of this has taken more than a few people by surprise with comments to camera such as “I really didn’t know how to vote so just ticked the first thing that came to mind in the ballot booth” or even more incredulously “I didn’t really think my vote would count”.
There was an exceptional turnout at the polling stations, far greater than in the General Election just 13 months ago when the Conservatives under David Cameron returned a healthy majority and we looked set for a prosperous term of office. The truth is this chaos is the consequence of a mere 3% swing of the 33 million plus Brits who voted in the Referendum.
Perhaps a more humbling statistic is that 75% of the under 25’s voted to Remain whilst over 60% of those over 60 voted to Leave. Democracy or no democracy, how dare my generation take such an arbitrary decision at the lifetime expense of our children and the younger generation coming through. We will never be forgiven for doing this so lightly.
The fact is we now have a tumultuous time ahead with the very real prospect of another General Election before the year is out with parties under different leadership and, almost certainly, different agendas. In the meantime, Scotland will be deciding whether it wants to push quickly for a second independence referendum (one it will surely win) in order to pursue its own desire to be a member state of EU, which means our already small island will be irrevocably divided.
However, the tricky part is seeing how Parliament reacts as the majority of MPs on all sides are in favour of single market membership and they would be the ones charged with making the orderly withdrawal and seeking to protect our status in our trade relations, economic partnerships, etc. Is it feasible to imagine they can do this when it will be so fundamentally against their beliefs? It is hard to think of any comparable political dilemma in our country in living memory.
What is more the battle for either side in the Referendum were not along traditional partisan lines. To see politicians of all persuasions lining up in unison was extraordinary and rather heartening. However, in the aftermath of the result we are now seeing a vicious dog eat dog situation which no one can predict the outcome. One thing is for sure, we are unquestionably damaging ourselves and undermining our relationships and reputations in the wider world.
It is not too strong to say that Referendum was won on the basis of blatant lies. The Leave battle bus that toured the country was blazoned with the message: ‘We send the EU £350m a week, lets fund our National Health Service instead’. Within hours of victory the key politicians in the Leave camp were either denying it or were admitting it was a mistake. In the words of the Observer newspaper on Sunday: “How long before the fabled £350m a week is redirected to British hospitals and schools? How long before the North Sea fisheries are restored, those shady Turks repulsed, EU migration halted or many other rash and mendacious promises fulfilled. It would be wise not to hold one’s breath”.
The triumphalism of ‘Independence Day’ – there is even a motion by the Brexiteers to create a new Public Holiday every 24 June – is the outcome of the endlessly repeated slogan of the Leave campaign ‘Take Back Control’. How frightening it is to realise this is the very same cry of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French National Front, Geert Wilders, of the Dutch party for Freedom, the nationalist Law and Justice party in Poland – and Donald Trump!
The idea that it is a Patriotic Spring, as some are calling it, has a distinctly sinister overtone. Fundamental patriotism is a good thing, overt and fanatical patriotism is a poisonous concept that can so easily overlap into terrorism and has been at the root of many ugly episodes in history.
What we must now hope for is a period of sensibility drained of passion. Where intelligent discussion can begin to seek a way to carve a new world order. One that does not punish people for their views but builds on opportunity which invariably emerges when change happens. Where the markets can find stability, currencies can settle and scaremongering is not given oxygen.
A writer in the Guardian newspaper today summed it up beautifully: “it feels almost as bad a day as the day of the fall of the Berlin Wall was good”. Our task now as UK Europeans is to shape a new future that is both good and respectful for all.