I took the above photograph on a very damp and windy ferry while in the UK last week. Suddenly it seems very appropriate.
Britain has voted to leave the European Union and now the consequences are becoming apparent. Very briefly:
- 2 trillion dollars were wiped off world stock markets and the Pound has suffered a record drop in value
- David Cameron has resigned, and there is no indication of functional governance in the immediate aftermath of the vote
- Scotland is making opening moves to Brussels on the assumption that it will split from Britain and remain in the EU
- a petition to parliament calling for a rerun of the referendum has been made, which at time of writing had already exceeded two and a half million signatures
- there has been immediate back-pedaling on the key promises made by the “leave” campaign on immigration and NHS funding
- there have been massive boosts for ultra-right-wing groups across all of Europe, with France’s Front Nacional changing its banner to the UK flag
Britain has been utterly broken by this absurd process.
Nigel Farage boasted that having won the referendum, now was the time to destroy the European Union. In reality it is the UK that is being destroyed. The Scottish government is already swiftly, calmly and rationally proceeding with talks to the EU on the assumption that its independence is a foregone conclusion. Here in Spain there are threats to the sovereignty of Gibraltar, which will no longer be protected by the EU one the UK leaves, and there are serious questions as to what will happen in Northern Ireland.
Across the world, governments have urged a calm and swift resolution to the withdrawal from the EU. Central banks have provided liquidity to stabilise the markets, and politicians such as Angela Merkel have stepped in to try to calm the situation. Yet from the seemingly broken UK government there has been only silence.
Fundamentally, this referendum was fought and won based on lies and xenophobia peddled by the vile Nigel Farage and the criminally opportunistic Boris Johnson. They openly campaigned on a series of outright falsehoods about how much money was paid to the EU and what would happen to it afterward. They played the racism card, with posters showing refugees and nonsensical claims about all of Turkey coming to the UK.
It is quite clear that a significant part of the exit vote was fired by immigration and racism. When people tell you that they are voting with their “gut instinct”, and that they do not want to waste their time trying to understand the issues, it is very clear what will be the outcome. This is the “soft” side of the kind of culture shown by the British thugs at Euro 2016. Is this really the country that Britain wants to be:
These people represent everything that the EU was founded to prevent. It is not surprising how they vote, but it is surprising and terrifying that such thinking is now shaping of one of the most prosperous and educated countries in the world.
Many people who voted for exit also now feel mislead after the back-peddling on promises. After polls closed there were huge spikes in google searches from the UK for information such as “what is brexit”. Helplines have been struggling with calls from people asking if they can change their vote. Both campaign groups must share some blame for this, but ultimately it is the British people themselves that have failed. A democratic process requires people to take responsibility for their choices.
All of this is so far the outcome of nothing more than a non-binding public consultation. David Cameron has reneged on his promise to immediately trigger article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon and until someone formally does this the UK’s official position remains unchanged. Astonishingly there is no clear timetable as to when a withdrawal will start, despite the obvious economic damage caused by prolonging the uncertainty.
And perhaps to add to the confusion there is still a chance the referendum will be overturned. The record petition to parliament for a second vote might be justified by the dishonest campaigns and implemented by a fresh general election. Whatever happens, the formerly United Kingdom will take a very very long time to recover from this shambolic mess, politically, economically and socially.
It would be fascinating to be a fly-on-the-wall in Downing Street and Buckingham Palace right now.