"Britain has done something very out of character—it has taken a leap of faith."by Jay Elwes / June 24, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: How Brexit should be done
Forty-eight hours ago in the Wembley Arena, standing before an audience of many thousands, Boris Johnson said: “They say we have no choice but to bow down to Brussels. We say they are woefully underestimating this country. If we vote “Leave,” we can take back control of our borders, of huge sums of money, of our trade policy and of our whole law-making system.”
The confidence of those remarks was typical of Johnson. The subjects that he identified, border control, money and law-making, got trenchantly to the issues at the very heart of the Brexit campaign. A forthright show of confidence of the campaign trail is all well and good. Now that Britain has voted to leave the EU, the rhetoric counts for nothing. Now the Brexit camp has to deliver.
In sharp contrast to the confident assertions at Wembley, the picture they face—that we all face—is one of alarm. When at around 4:40am the result became clear, the pound dropped like a stone, crashing to its lowest level since 1985. World markets, including the Nikkei in Japan, and the German and Irish stock exchanges also fell sharply. The Bank of England was forced to make an emergency statement, saying that it would “take all necessary steps,” to ease volatile conditions. The London stock market opened, and in the opening 30 minutes of trading fell by almost 12 per cent. Shares in Barclays, Lloyds and RBS all dropped by 30 per cent.
Britain has entered its most uncertain period of modern times. David Cameron has announced that he will step down as Prime Minister at the Conservative Party conference in October. Whether George Osborne will remain Chancellor, whether Britain will have an early General Election, whether Scotland will hold a second referendum on independence from the United Kingdom, exactly who will be Britain’s Brexit negotiator with the European Union, whether a border will go up between Northern Ireland and the Republic, whether Spain will have joint sovereignty with Britain over Gibraltar—all of these questions, and many others like them, are now live.
It is also uncertain how this result will affect public opinion in other EU countries. Marine le Pen, leader of the French Front National, is deeply eurosceptic. She will be emboldened by the British vote to leave. There are anti-EU parties in countries across the continent. Geert Wilders, the Dutch far right politician has already called for a referendum on EU membership in the Netherlands.
And what will this mean for our relations with countries outside the EU, most importantly with the United States? The State Department will take a dim view of this result, having made it clear throughout the campaign that it wanted Britain to remain inside the EU. President Obama will share that dismay.
As for negotiations with the EU, there is also deep uncertainty about how Britain will detach itself. The referendum result is a matter internal to Britain, and not recognised as binding by the EU. To begin the process of Brexit, David Cameron—or whoever happens to be Prime Minister—will have to inform the EU of Britain’s intention to leave. Only then will the departure process begin.
At this point Britain will have to deal with Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which sets out instructions for how a country can leave the EU—the Article excludes the departing nation from some of the most important discussions over the terms of its leaving. And the EU has its own interests now. It’s combined economic weight amounts to 20 per cent of global GDP. How generous it will be towards Britain (three per cent of global GDP) is uncertain.
That is the word—uncertain. Britain has chosen to cut loose from its moorings. We are now a country in no-man’s land, divided from our closest neighbours and divided even amongst ourselves. The margin of victory for the Brexit camp was 52:48. For there to be such stark disagreement over a question as fundamentally important as this is deeply worrying. By casting their votes in favour of a campaign that focused on the twin themes of immigration and sovereignty, slightly over half the electorate showed clearly it felt the country has been heading in the wrong direction. “This will be a victory for real people, ordinary people, for decent people,” said Nigel Farage at a victory rally early on Friday morning. What this means for the remaining 48 per cent is not clear.
And what of Parliament? A majority of MPs were in favour or remaining in the EU, and as such, the inhabitants of the Commons chamber are now in disagreement with the very people who put them there. If the Prime Minister were to call a Brexit vote in the House and MPs voted not to go ahead, what then?
And so we enter a period of deep uncertainty, one that will have immense significance for the structure of our economy, for society and for our foreign policy. In voting to leave the EU, Britain has done something very out of character—it has taken a leap of faith. British politics will now become an exercise in managing the landing. How this can be done, whether it can be done and if so by whom, are at present questions without answers.