It’s been a tumultuous few days since polling stations closed at 10pm on Thursday June 23 and the UK awoke on the morning of Friday June 24 to the news that the result of the national referendum on whether this country would remain a member of the European Union or not turned out to be not.
I am very sad at this result – one that took many people by surprise, me included – as I believe that our future is intertwined with that of our European neighbours, individually and collectively; that this is a very good thing; and that being an influential part of the European Union is mutually beneficial and will lead to greater prosperity for all.
I’m bewildered by the fact that over 17.4 million of my fellow citizens were persuaded by arguments to the contrary, presented under the guise of “regaining control” of our country, its judicial system, its borders; controlling immigration; getting rid of a bloated bureaucracy in Brussels; and more; all of which is the path to a glorious future for an “independent” United Kingdom.
Without any doubt, the referendum result is a seismic event:
- Following the announcement of the final result, David Cameron said he will resign as Prime Minister and as leader of the Conservative Party and a new one will be appointed by the time of the party conference in October.
- On Friday, the value of the pound against other major currencies fell to its lowest since 1985; stock markets worldwide took a pounding as their values plummeted.
- The Moody credit reference agency cut the UK’s credit rating to ‘negative.’
- Political turmoil erupted in the UK with feverish speculation in the mainstream media on who would be the next Prime Minister. Boris Johnson? Michael Gove? Theresa May? Someone else?
- A motion on a vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party was proposed for hearing early next week, on the basis that he didn’t do enough to persuade Labour voters to vote to remain in the EU. It’s now reported that Corbyn has fired Hilary Benn from his shadow Cabinet for allegedly plotting a coup.
- The leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, is pressing for another referendum on Scottish independence as 62% of Scots voted to remain in the EU. She is also reaching out directly to EU leaders to begin dialogue on how Scotland could be a member of the EU. But, according to the Daily Mail today, such outreach has been firmly rebuffed.
- There are voices in Northern Ireland – where the majority vote to remain in the EU was 55% – and the Irish Republic calling for re-unification of the island of Ireland.
This is a dark time for our country and other European countries, but mainly for us. I think that this referendum has brought to the surface long-simmering divisions and resentments across many sectors of our society, never mind the political turmoil. In a sense, voting to leave the EU was an outlet for people’s frustrations and anger (rage in many cases), a way for people to bash The Establishment, to wave two fingers at those in charge who are perceived to be utterly out of touch with the realities of life in contemporary Britain.
(If that sounds familiar, just look across the Atlantic at what’s going on there in the run-up to the US presidential election in November.)
Think of this referendum result. Almost 52% of the voting population wanting to leave the European Union also means 48% of the voting population wanting to remain part of that Union.
But this near-50/50 split in preference is far from uniform. There is no such neat division on a map. Well, except for the nations that make up the United Kingdom – it’s very clear that the English and Welsh want out with the Scots and Northern Irish wanting in.
And yet, this still isn’t the complete picture as within each country votes were cast in local election districts, and results varied by local district. Look at England and Wales on the map to get an idea; drill down into the data for the detail.
There’s another dimension to this, perhaps the most significant of all.
One other chart (of many) shows the voting breakdown by ages. Such a demographic split-out highlights a worrying fact – in the broadest sense, Generation Z (18 to mid-20s age group in the context of this referendum) and Millennial (mid-20s to mid-40s) voters want to be part of the EU; Boomers (early 50s to early 70s) and the Silent Generation (born before 1945) want to be out of the EU.
You could call it a tragedy that older voters – the age groups that are at the forefront of leaving the EU – leave behind them a legacy wholly unwanted by the younger more outward- looking and -thinking generations who will have to live with the consequences of the acts of those older.
So where do we go from here?
One tweet I saw early on Friday morning summarized the picture quite well. I’ve seen little to suggest that the picture has changed at all two days on.
Finally, something every single one of us can agree on: absolutely nobody has a bloody clue what happens now…
— James O'Brien (@mrjamesob) June 24, 2016
And then there’s the online petition calling on the government to do the referendum again. As I write these words early on Sunday morning, that petition has already attracted well over 2,800,000 signatures (that’s 2.8 million) in just a few days. As an online petition has to draw at least 100,000 signatures for it to be considered for debate in Parliament, that outcome looks a certainty.
But will it make any difference to anything?
I have no idea of any constitutional, legal or political impediments or not, nor how on earth another referendum will work for the near-52% of voters who clearly said they want to leave the European Union. Plus, I don’t really see how the government can retrospectively apply a condition, such as this petition states, after the event.
So I hesitate to say ‘Yes.’ But three days ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that a majority of voters in the UK would vote to leave the EU (just as I can’t imagine Americans will, seriously, put Mr Trump in the White House in November).
I do hope those currently running the country, as well as those who aspire to that role, have a plan for what’s next, or at least a plan for a plan. I say take the reasonable time needed (between now and October). Resist the pressures from our European political friends to rush the filing for a quickie divorce. Ignore the criticisms and accept the loss of face.
Events are fast-moving and I expect to see evolved headlines every day in the coming week. Conspiracy theories abound and it’s not easy to get a good sense of what’s real and what’s mischief.
Time for a nice cup of tea, I think.