The people of England have spoken. Or, to put it another way, the mob has brayed. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ringing phrase, “A date which will live in infamy,” comes to mind.
We are coming out of Europe.
Notice that I wrote England rather than Britain. Scotland voted overwhelmingly and predictably for staying in, and will now be pushing for a new Scottish vote to leave the United Kingdom, and not in the next ten years but in the next two. There is even talk – unthinkable until yesterday – of a referendum in Northern Island about joining the Irish Republic. Admittedly this is Sinn Fein talking, so take it with a pinch of salt – or a pint of Guinness. Even so, it sounds less outlandish than it would have done yesterday.
Anything can happen now in the realm of politics. We live in an age when any governing institution that represents what we have quaintly been calling The Establishment is endangered, its citadels ripe for toppling. Ask David Cameron, our soon to be former prime minister.
That will now be the thinking in the United States, at least in the Donald Trump camp – and perhaps in the outer far-right reaches of the Republican Party. There will be calls by their equivalents in some European countries for a referendum. And even if these are unlikely to take place anytime soon, the graffiti is starting to appear on the walls.
The voters of England, to borrow a Chinese proverb, have mounted a tiger from which they dare not dismount. They will dismiss such notions as poppy-cock, revelling in the delusion that the tiger can easily be tamed. It might be, of course, but probably only by shooting it. By then, many of the riders will have been eaten.
Sour grapes, I hear some readers muttering.
It is not sour grapes to regret a decision that this writer has been arguing against for some months. I did so on the grounds that the long-term consequences would be too unpredictable, and the short term results extremely uncomfortable. The latter point has already been made by the financial markets. The London stock market has immediately fallen by fifteen per cent, and the pound skidded to its lowest level for thirty years. Wall Street is expected to react with a wave of selling.
Markets R Not Us, of course, and short-term fluctuations on the exchanges are not what should guide political decisions, of which so many now loom that our leaders scarcely know where to begin. What markets usually do in these circumstances is not so much exploit confusion to allow speculators to make a fast buck – although some undoubtedly will – but to retreat behind defensive positions until the smoke of battle has cleared sufficiently to allow a more rational assessment.
Britain now can no longer survive as the United Kingdom, that much is clear. Whether the country that emerges, whatever its name, thrives to the extent that the Brexiteers have assured us that it will, remains to be seen. It just might, even the losers must concede, although the prospect of a Boris Johnson premiership (perhaps with Michael Gove as Chancellor) does not fill me with unalloyed confidence.
The countries of the European Union, and the euro, will likewise be sailing into stormy political seas, from which they may or may not emerge in their present form. There is no way of knowing what happens next in Europe. Confusion will be the first order of business.
Personally, I carry no standard into battle for the euro. I happen to think that it was a noble experiment that failed for ignoble reasons, not to mention practical ones. But I do know that turmoil across Europe, for all the gloating that we will hear from the triumphant Brexiteers, will do New Britain no favours, and may well do harm. Business confidence usually suffers at times of political uncertainty.
Anyway, the deed has now been done. The political right is on the march, and history tells us where that can lead.
But then, who reads history nowadays?
The English used to. I can only hope they start doing so again, perhaps starting with a meeting in a Munich beer hall.