Any aesthete must dislike the word Brexit. It’s an ugly portmanteau which should never have been written down such is the offence of both its spelling and aurality. It is though suitable for the turmoil-filled river in which the UK now finds itself swimming with its shoelaces tied together and people on the bank jeering and refusing to throw lifebelts . Any part of the world with an internet connection is in shock and like the final Jimmy Anderson delivery before bad light stops play no one saw this one coming. Not even Leave poster boy Mr Johnson can have believed that the UK wouldn’t vote Remain. In one of the worst decisions by a contemporary politician, the UK PM called a referendum to quieten internal Tory divides. Nick Clegg has confirmed that Cameron was certain he would win, but instead an entire continent has been thrown into panic. This surely counts as one of the highest prices ever paid for trying to quell disunity in a political party.
It can however be fixed. Britain has previously survived the Salmonella crisis and Mad Cow disease and though this is a whopper of a pickle that can’t be fixed by force feeding your children referendum burgers, fear not, sense will prevail. The doom-mongers will monger doom – they get paid for it and people believe papers have to be filled, so we must expect more negative stories telling us that we’ll never again be allowed to go to Italy, that Germans will never again buy our lawnmowers and the French will refuse to sell us any more of their delicious wine. But it isn’t so.
The Leave vote was a protest vote that nobody saw being so successful. Paradoxically the very size of the Leave vote is some indication of how certain voters were that the outcome would be remain. They felt that a message had to be sent to Westminster and Brussels that the EU isn’t working. But the leave vote is reminiscent of children arguing which part of a roly-poly is the roly, and which part is the poly. No one can definitively say how it is made up.
We can’t even say that the nation is as deeply divided as the results suggest. (A divide that is presumably no bigger than before the referendum, it is just now out in the open – an unsettling place for a nation that prefers divisions to be swept carefully under the carpet and studiously ignored). Why not? the referendum was to simplistic. Leave or Remain as the only options left no place for nuance. Many people who believe that the EU has flaws that need to be addressed could not in conscience vote for a Remain position that would be taken as a vote of support for the EU and give the organisation further strength in refusing to reform. The Leave vote comprises voters not voting Remain, rather than actively voting Leave.
The result of the referendum is not then a mandate to pull up the drawbridge, leave the EU and start preparing for another Agincourt. It is the message of an electorate that it is unhappy with the current EU and wants to force that supra-national body to reform. It is the result of an internal debate, and the consequence should not be Right, we’re off, but rather, Right, what can we do to make sense of this.
Forget not that the EU would be weakened, maybe irreparably by the loss of the UK. When vindictive retaliation is discounted the EU will want the UK to remain. And if asked seriously to vote on whether to leave, with no protest votes the result may well be very different. The protest has been made, the EU must take it seriously. But the UK government must not invoke article 50; rather it must allow the country to decide how it best continues, however that may be.
After all, the referendum has given no suggestions as to with what the UK would replace the EU. When that is clearer then a real decision can be made, and for that there must be an election. Parties, old and probably new, can fight on the basis of how they will react, or how they will cancel the whole idea of leaving the EU. Then we can see how the country intends to deal with this situation. Protest votes will not be possible, it will be a positive campaign on how to move forward. The country may choose to continue with the Brexit. It may also recognise the referendum as a legitimate protest and yet vote for continuing in some guise within the EU, albeit with a well-understood reticence to accept the EU in its current form. The EU would be glad to keep the UK within the fold. The impetus would exist for serious reform. We can end this turmoil with a leaner, less-authoritarian EU and a better understanding of the UK’s position in both Europe and the world.
David Cameron may regret his hasty resignation. In a new political landscape the UK is making an unplanned D of E expedition and the person who was supposed to bring the map and compass has stayed up too late watching Match of the Day and forgotten to get up. The situation is fluid and needs a leader. Cameron may wish to withdraw his resignation and lead a new Remain rump of the Tory party into this new election. If, once given real choices the electorate votes to leave then so be it. Until then it behooves the Prime Minister and other Remainers to fight on.
What do you think? British, European and world views of this unexpected Brexit situation welcome. Leave your comment below.