I knew the vote was at least going to be very close late last night when early results showed a very narrow vote in favour of Remain in areas that had been expected to vote heavily for staying in the European Union (EU). I then went to bed, somewhat perturbed but still confident only to wake at around 5am and checked the results to find that the BBC were forecasting a Leave victory and that the Leave campaign only need another 600,000 votes. I was shell-shocked at the result which I feel can have terrible consequences for the country’s economy and society. I also believe that Brexit may fail to resolve many of the issues, such as immigration, that the Leave campaign chose to focus on. The final result was: 17,410,742 for Leave and 16,141,241 for Remain. The turnout was over 70% and was the highest turnout at a national UK election since 1992, but was still way below what many were predicting and below the 80%+ turnout in the Scottish Independence referendum vote in September 2014. As expected, all 32 areas in Scotland voted a majority Remain, which has reignited the calls for another Scottish independence referendum. The leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, praised the “unequivocal” vote by the Scottish people to Remain in the EU. The SNP’s manifesto states that there should be another independence ballot if there was a “significant and material” change in circumstances following the 2014 vote. Scotland voting to Remain in the EU while the UK votes to Leave was cited as the primary example of such a change in circumstances. The drive towards Scottish independence will now only get stronger after this morning’s vote. (BBC article) As I write, Nicola Sturgeon has announced that legal requirements are being instituted that will lead to another Scottish independence referendum. The break-up of the UK itself will have serious consequences for the remaining members of the UK and for Scotland itself. (article)
The consequences of the vote were starting to be felt even before the vote was official. The markets were getting jittery. They had done their own polling on the referendum and last night seemed confident that Remain were going to win. The Pound and the markets rallied as a result after falls and uncertainty over the possible result. However, when it became clear that their polling was wrong, the markets started to panic again and the Pound has fallen to the lowest level since 1985. Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, has tried to calm the markets and has said that the Bank of England will take any measures necessary to secure financial and economic stability. This could involve injecting up to 250 billion into the financial institutions and the setting up of arrangements with central banks to provide foreign currency to UK markets if required. This uncertainty in the markets could pull the country off course and even back into recession and it will also undermine the potential savings leaving the EU the Leave campaign say are possible. Mark Carney said that volatility was to be expected after a Brexit vote, and stressed: “[…] we are well prepared for this. The Treasury and the Bank of England have engaged in extensive contingency planning and the Chancellor [George Osborne] and I have been in close contact, including through the night and this morning.” Additional measures may include cutting interest rates or using quantitative easing. The Bank of England, however, has recently said that Brexit was the most significant threat to the UK’s financial stability. (article)
Politically, the fallout has begun this morning with the announcement by the Prime Minister, David Cameron (above left), that he will step down as Prime Minister in October and allow his successor to negotiate with the EU on our withdrawal from the Union. (article) His resignation was inevitable and was only hastened when commentators and MPs were suggesting that it would be implausible for him to lead the exit negotiations that now must take place with the EU. They suggested that someone who truly believed in the UK being outside of the EU should lead those negotiations. The Prime Minister seemed to agree: “[…] the British people made a different decision to take a different path. As such I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction. I will do everything I can as Prime Minister, to steady the ship in the weeks ahead, but I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to the next destination.” His replacement will be in place by the time of the October Tory party conference.
Cameron has been Prime Minister since 2010 – first at the head of a Coalition Government with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats and then, after last year’s surprise election victory, as leader of a Tory majority Government. His insistence that he would remain PM until 2010 when he would step down was always going to be difficult to maintain if the UK voted to Leave the EU. I celebrate his departure. I have dreamed of his resignation since 2010, but the possibility of him being replaced by someone even more ideologically driven – such as by Boris Johnson (above right) – is a real nightmare. Boris Johnson has staked his entire political future on his support for Brexit. The former Mayor of London is a deeply ambitious man and didn’t put his career on the line unless it was because he coveted the top job. Today he praised Cameron as “one of the most extraordinary politicians of our age.” A rival praising you is generally a prelude to stabbing you in the back. (article)
The Evening Standard this morning was describing Boris as the “blond Excocet” and that the Brexit victory puts him on course to No. 10. The paper speaks of age age of Cameron and Osborne being over to be replaced by “the age of Johnson alone.” They argue that the biggest gamble of his life is about to pay off and that Johnson has wanted to be Prime Minister since he was a child. He could never launch an offensive directly against Cameron, so he has ‘hitched his wagon to Brexit, the only movement that could conceivably shift Cameron from Downing Street.” (article) (Cameron’s resignation announcement) It will be up to Cameron’s successor to negotiate our withdrawal from the EU – a process that could take two years. Whether the new Prime Minister will call a General Election is unknown, but I find it questionable that whoever succeeds Cameron will be sitting in Downing Street, in charge of the country, but will only have been put there by fellow Tory MPs and not by the will of the people.
Over the coming months and years I intend to use my blog to discuss the inevitable consequences and realities that emerge out of today’s historic vote. These will include the effects on the economy, on immigration, on jobs and society, and on the political makeup of the country and the fortunes of the political parties. Hopefully, the doom-laden scaremongering of the Remain campaigns will prove over-exaggerated and Britain will thrive post-Brexit. However, one thing is certain and that is that nothing is certain. There are so many variables as to what will happen next – both positive and negative – which only time will play out. I voted Remain and am disheartened that we have chosen to leave the EU and take such a huge gamble on the country’s future. However, I am willing to remain open to the possibility that it will not be a disaster for the UK. A difficult hope to cling onto in light of the possibilities of economic damage, right-wing Tory takeovers, and the threat of the break-up of the UK itself. We will just have to wait and see. Watch this space.