Boris Johnson’s post-coital face at his victory conference said it all. The act completed, enacted by democracy. Britain is out of the EU. But, where to from here?
On a day of torrential rain that closed polling stations and halted commuter trains, 72 percent of Britons eligible to vote decided upon the fate of their nation and, perhaps, that of Europe’s. A campaign had ended; one of ugly insinuations and mistruths, ratcheted behind the hateful anonymity of social media and much confusion over “the facts” of what the European Union actually can and can’t do. The final days were quiet, sobered by the ghastly murder of Jo Cox, Labour’s inspiring member of parliament, by a disturbed nationalist, shouting “Britain first”. In the early hours of June 24, Britain learned that it had voted to leave the European Union. “Remainers” met the startling result with shocked numbness, as if another atrocity had been committed, this time by an unsuspecting family member. The vote was close, but decisive.
Now politicians from both sides long for parliament’s upcoming summer recess to regroup and digest what the rupture of a 40 year relationship actually means. Both sides are bewildered, and hoping to be wrong – about the dire economic and international consequences forewarned by the “Remain” campaign and the inability to stem the continuing flow of migrants that “Leave” politicians promised to fix. Even some Brexit politicians looked a little sheepish – as if they had been careless enough to wish for what they got.
Glancing at Boris the morning after, my daughter sneered: “So is he prime minister yet?” And when he declared that the people of this country had decided, she breathed: “They haven’t – a bunch of old people have.”
David Cameron’s gracious speech of concession was emotional composure at its British best; appealing for calm amid the momentousness of such a decision. He advised postponing the extrication of this 40 year relationship until the election in October of a new Tory leader. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, was having none of it. Seeking to punish the Prime Minister for precipitating this potential implosion of the EU, he made it known that the two year countdown should start, let’s say, next week; leave is leave, now get on with it. No pussyfooting for a Britain that has been feasting on a cake of concessions within the EU – lounging outside the Schengen area while tossing its own coinage.
The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney’s don’t-worry-I’ve-got-your-back press statement ultimately calmed a panicky City of London. But talk of introducing executive powers for the Prime Minister in order to speed up the convoluted “Article 50” departure, feels like a step closer to the United States of Britain that no one wanted. And the Brexit slogan of “taking back control” was never meant to include the indefinite, day-in-day-out interaction with the 27 other EU countries that will determine Britain’s future status.
This was a vote of displaced anger at one’s lot in life. A street sweeper was asked: What do you think will change now? “Everything! Working conditions..!” This might have been UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s “Independence Day”, but it was also Scotland’s. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made clear that preparations for a second referendum to secede are now “on the table”.
Young voters have reacted with fury. “I feel I’ve had a right stripped from me”, said a 23-year-old, whose 18 – 24 demographic voted 75 percent to Remain. They are incensed at the old who took away their future – 61 percent of the over sixty-five voted to leave. It is hard for them to watch former cabinet ministers of the Thatcher era, like Norman Tebbit, Nigel Lawson and Norman Lamont, with a combined age of 250 years, point with a shaky hand to the positive effects of the isolation from a world that they will not be alive to experience.
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Glancing at Boris the morning after, looking a tad post-coital at his first press conference, my daughter sneered casually: “So is he prime minister yet?” And when he declared that the people of this country had decided, she breathed: “They haven’t – a bunch of old people have.” His was a poised speech of nonsense, equating the advantages of a Europe that young Britons enjoy today to the dreams that England would now help them fulfil.
This was a vote against the elite – the bankers, politicians, business leaders, tax-evaders – and, more worryingly, the elite of critical thinking – the IMF, the OECD, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and the President of the United States, among others. Pro-Brexit Justice Minister Michael Gove’s words of comfort that this moment will signify, “a new chapter in line with our best traditions” ring true; circa 1972, that is, propped by a tanking pound, a visible British Nationalist Movement and a more prosperous London-centric capital with little regard for the rest of the country, England.
Despite the lies and manipulation in the Brexit arguments, people voted because they wanted to be fooled; and to be freed to vent, and make inappropriate remarks about others who are not like them and sound foreign. London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan, tried to mend broken bridges on day one via the tweet: “To every European resident living in London you are very welcome here.”
— Mayor of London (@MayorofLondon) June 24, 2016
Or as another young voice was heard saying:
“London and Scotland can stay in – the rest can go f–k themselves.”