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What’s the future for our disunited kingdom?

June 28, 2016

 

There definitely weren’t enough superlatives to go around last Friday morning as commentators floundered in trying to come to terms with the EU referendum result.

 

What was clear to all observers was that a majority had been more attracted to promises of self-determination offered by the Leave camp than a Remain message which came across as “do it because we say so”.

 

As emphatic as the result may have been though, it’s an outcome more likely to reinforce divisions than heal them.

 

Let’s be upfront. Many punters saw it as a good old-fashioned protest vote where the outcome didn’t really matter either way. I say that because I understand "What is the EU?" became the second top UK Google search after the proverbial hit the fan.

 

Many now apparently have belated second-thoughts and a new word, “Bregret”, has been coined to describe those who feel they might have made the wrong choice for the wrong reasons.

 

This has prompted citizens having trouble in adjusting to the new reality to demand a re-run.

 

I fear they’re in for a further disappointment. The legal consensus is that the referendum outcome is like owning an old dog: you’re stuck with it for life, no matter how much it stinks.

 

City types who had bet on a different result comes across as undecided as to whether they should be more appalled at the aftermath or that one of their privileged own could abandon his political good sense to enable such a dangerous plebiscite.

 

Matters are not helped by an unplanned hiatus at Downing Street before the messy business of EU disentanglement begins.

 

That leaves anoraks like me seeking explanations as to why traditional voter patterns went so readily to hell.

 

It takes a lot of motivation for people to actively oppose a fairly entrenched status quo. As several experts have since commented, the telling factor wasn’t so much anti-European sentiment as an underlying a sense of disillusionment.

 

I’d add that making it a political loyalty test rather than a genuine matter of popular opinion was a serious mistake by the Remain brigade.

 

People undoubtedly voted with their pockets, but not for handouts. Those regions most economically dependent on European aid returned among the highest proportion of votes to leave. The notion that money currently going to Brussels could be kept and spent locally was a potent one.

 

Then there’s immigration. There is no doubting the impact this issue had or how it became the most unattractive side of the campaign. For myself, I think that subsequent calls by senior Leave campaign figures for national reconciliation are insulting given the posters and slogans they earlier sanctioned.

 

If the success of the Out movement was remarkable then the rapid ‘modification’ of expectations has been no less so. No-one actually promised £350m a week extra for the NHS it seems and cutbacks in immigration were a “misunderstanding”.

 

So what’s the future for our disunited kingdom now?

 

My take is that I don’t think that Brexit marks the end of the world. I do however think that it will hurt us all financially, set back social justice, deepen divides and make our lives potentially very dangerous.

 

I hope I’m wrong. I really do.

 

 

 

The political aftermath

 

David Cameron described the EU referendum as a "giant democratic exercise". His many critics saw it as a giant error of judgement. They were proved right and his hubris finally caught up with him.

 

The consequence is that a lot of people in high places are now asking themselves how Britain is going to be run both over the next few months and thereafter.

 

What hasn’t helped is Labour and Conservatives going into meltdown at the same time. Just when the nation and its soon-to-be former EU partners are looking for signs of an equitable end to things, we’re confronted instead by party political self-indulgence.

 

Boris Johnson remains the favourite to be Downing Street’s next tenant although probably not under the circumstances he envisaged.


Labour clearly has yet to assimilate the fact that the majority of people queuing at the polling stations last week weren't there with the aim of embracing an inclusive left-wing agenda.

 

The political implications of Brexit in Wales are just as contradictory. Events could bring Labour and Plaid Cymru closer together or drive them further apart should a general election arise.

 

On the upside though we won’t be seeing any more EU elections – and Nigel Farage will have to get himself a proper job.

 

 

 

Can it be business as usual?

 

The assurances made yesterday by Chancellor George Osborne sounded good. The also carried the same calming sincerity that ground control uses when talking down a pilot whose instrumentation has failed.

 

Like him, I don't think that we’ll see an overnight exodus of business. What is more likely to happen however is a significant number of private and public sector investment decisions being put on indefinite hold due to uncertainty.

 

This in turn will see a slowdown in growth with the economy sliding into technical recession. That means less earnings and less tax revenue for the Exchequer.

 

You don’t have to be a fiscal genius to work out that the so-called Brexit dividend is more likely to be put to use in closing that looming income gap than to boost health spending.

 

The UK is a net importer of goods - around £16 billion a month. So we can also expect rising prices to cause a slowdown in consumer spending plus a hike in interest rates. Happy days.

 

 

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