The Referendum came to feel like a general election for which, in the absence of Labour and the LibDems, there were only two parties in contention. On one side were the Team Cameron moderate “Remain” Conservatives. On the other side were the Team Johnson right wing “Leave” Conservatives. As a Team Cameron “Remain” supporter I concede that, not only did the right wing win but, the results in the Tory shire seats show that the right wing won the Conservative vote by a clear margin.
The people have spoken. The United Kingdom will leave the European Union.
The campaign revealed an anger among the electorate. It’s an anger against big globalised business. It’s against bankers. It’s against remote governance. In short it’s against anyone or any organisation that influences our lives without being directly accountable to ”the little people”, as Farage calls the electorate. A small group who harbour an ideological dislike of the EU cleverly caught the wind of public anger to propel the leave campaign. And the EU was an easy target. Junker, Tusk and the Commission are seen as the personification of the “unaccountable, unelected, bureaucratic elite”. Specifically it was immigration, and the inability or unwillingness of ‘big’ government to address the people’s concerns that struck greatest accord.
The people of the United Kingdom delivered a very similar message as Trump’s “little people” in the USA. Europe be warned; ignore the message and it will be only a matter of time before you receive the same message from other EU countries. Talk of ‘punishing’ dissenters to prevent other member states copying Britain will only reinforce the mood.
There is a justified legitimacy to some of that anger which in fullness of time will, I hope, lead to better governance, better capitalism and a better, fairer, world for the next generation.
But, for now, the British have spoken and, whether they intended it or not, the UK will leave the EU. The time scale looks like this;
September 2016; appointment of new Conservative Prime Minister.
October 2016; ‘unifying’ Conservative party conference.
November 2016; new Prime Minister announces the UK’s intention to trigger article 50…..BUT (and huge but) ……. given that 48% of the electorate voted against ‘Leave’, he or she may (no pun intended) feel the need to get a clear mandate from the House of Commons. If Parliament was unable to give a clear mandate what then? General election? not impossible (but not an appealing prospect to either major party).
November 2018; completion of the two year statutory negotiation period of Article 50. Britain leaves the EU. New relationship comes into force or, in the event of failure to agree, we are out of the single market altogether.
Two issues seem most likely to dominate the negotiations.
First; will the EU insist that free movement of workers is a non-negotiable condition of the single market or, alternatively, would the UK think free movement of workers would be too high a price to pay for access to the single market?
Second; leaving the EU means political disengagement. Where and how would the UK like to strike the balance between restoration of ‘sovereignty’ and loss of influence?
What we most need now is time, cool heads and sound judgement. There is a solution out there; but only when the ‘elites’ stop and listen to the message of the people.
Richard Ashworth MEP