I’m writing this on the morning that a majority of British voters chose to leave the EU. Having stated my position as ‘remain’ and voted that way (as did Christine), I’m devastated to say the least, and terrified of what happens next.
It’s worth bearing in mind that I’m writing this having been awake since 3am, five days into a six day working week.
I’m feeling similar thoughts to 2011, when we as a country rejected a change to our voting system. I backed the change to AV, but a majority preferred to stick with the existing first-past-the-post system. But at least that was maintaining a ‘status quo’ – with the EU referendum, I fear the choices were ‘the same’ and ‘worse’, and not ‘the same’ and ‘better’.
And it’s bringing back memories of 2015, when the Conservatives unexpectedly won a majority in the General Election, and 2004, when George W Bush was re-elected as President of the USA.
What will take place over the coming days, weeks and months remains to be seen. The referendum result is not legally binding, and so the government and/or Parliament could choose to ignore it. I think one of the two following scenarios will play out.
Scenario 1: We leave the EU
The key thing to watch out for is invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This is like giving notice on your job – it tells the rest of the EU nations that we will leave, and gives us two years to sort things out. At the end of that two year period, we will cease to be an EU member state, unless we can get every other EU member state to agree to stop the process, or grant us an extension.
I don’t expect Article 50 to be invoked straightaway, because two years isn’t very long to unpick all of the legislation linked to Europe and implement new trade deals with every other country in the world. I’ve heard that those leading the leave campaign want to wait until 2018, with the aim of completing the Article 50 process by 2020, when the next general election is due to take place.
Whilst I think we will lose out by leaving the EU, I expect any changes to be slow – although the biggest ever fall in the value of the pound may imply that things are about to get very hairy very quickly (and probably wipe out any savings from leaving the EU). In any case, I expect many of those who voted to leave will be disappointed that leaving the EU won’t bring about the massive changes that they expect. A major claim by Vote Leave was that the £350 million that we spend each week on EU membership (which is actually much less thanks to a rebate) could be spent on the NHS, but within hours of the result Nigel Farage has said that’s unlikely.
My big worry is therefore that ‘leave’ voters will feel massively let down and disenfranchised by the whole thing – leaving the EU won’t have been the panacea promised, and their trust in the political system will disappear.
A majority of Scottish and Northern Irish voters chose to remain, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a second referendum on Scottish independence in the coming years. I was neutral on the previous referendum, but I’d be very understanding if Scotland voted to go independent to re-join the EU as a new member state. As for Northern Ireland, I fear that the years of calm since the Troubles subsided could be over, especially as the Republic of Ireland remains an EU member state.
Scenario 2: The referendum result is ignored
Because the referendum isn’t legally binding, the government and/or Parliament may choose to ignore it, and not invoke Article 50. Whether this happens now, or in a couple of years when people realise what a mess we’ve got ourselves into, remains to be seen. I would naturally prefer this to happen, seeing as how 16 million British voters wanted to remain in the EU, but it is also not without caveats.
Those who voted leave will, understandably, be annoyed, and will feel massively let down and disenfranchised by the whole thing. I know, I’m repeating myself, but I genuinely think a lot of good, honest people, were convinced to vote leave on the basis of lies and false promises. But what makes this worse than the scenario above, is that these voters will struggle to find any political parties to turn to. After all, out of the 7 major British parties – Conservatives, Labour, Scottish National Party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Green Party and UK Independence Party – only the latter officially supported leaving with minorities of the largest two. Of course, that assumes that this won’t result in parties splitting apart – and neither Labour or the Conservatives are particularly united at the moment.
The big issue is that no-one knows what’ll happen
What scares me most about the whole thing is all of the uncertainty. Staying in the EU would have, for the most part, been business as usual. But by voting to leave, we’ve opened a massive Pandora’s Box, and who knows what we’ll find.
I really hope that my worst fears are not realised. If they are, then at least I’ll be able to tell my daughter that I voted for what I thought was the right thing. And I apologise now if, in the coming months and years, I keep saying ‘I told you so’.