I suppose in some infinitesimal part the referendum vote for Brexit is my fault too. In common with most of the Btitish élite or hangers-on, and all those who have worked for one European institution or another, I never took the threat of Brexit quite seriously. Surely the voters would in the end recognize the wishful thinking of an à la carte Europe, keeping the bits you like and not the ones you don’t. Surely the young, under-represented in telephone polling, would turn out en masse. But it’s the unlikely and incoherent alliance of elderly Little Englanders and the depressed Northern working class that turned out, and won.
The disaster is playing out at several speeds. The pound has already fallen sharply, anticipating the City’s loss of access to European financial markets. David Cameron has resigned; his first gamble with the constitution over Scottish independence was just saved for him by two Labour politicians, Alistair Darling with the numbers and Gordon Brown with the flag-waving. This time Jeremy Corbyn was as usual useless, and the gamble failed. In fact the strong Bremain vote in Scotland has opened up the case for a second Scottish referendum, so it may end up a double catastrophe for the Union.
The combination of a vague constitutional referendum and a parliamentary system has thrown the UK into a permanent crisis. The leavers are a minority of MPs, and they don’t like their marching orders. If Boris Johnson gets his ambition of 10 Downing Street, he will be living on a knife-edge. He has already suggested that there is no hurry, but Brussels is insisting on an early trigger of Article 50, the formal withdrawal mechanism that sets a two-year deadline for negotiations. Boris (or Gove or whoever) is about to find just how weak Britain’s cards are in this process. Norway and Switzerland have access to the single market, and Norway is even in the Schengen free-movement area. But both pay hefty contributions, nominally to the regional development and other structural funds. Britain’s interlocutors have no incentive to be nice.
Is id possible that the exit terms will be so awful that in the end the UK will swallow its pride and stay in? Just possible, but as in divorce a descent into rancour is far more likely than last-minute reconciliation.
Why did it all go wrong? Continue Reading…