Well that’s that then. Votes cast and counted and the UK, by a margin of 51.9% to 48.1% have voted to Leave the European Union. The long, fractious and never really embracing journey that the UK has been on shall now enter a new phase. I can only guess as to where it’ll end up.
You may have heard by now though that the vote across the nations and regions of our “One Nation” was not homogeneous.
England and Wales voted to Leave. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to Remain. It represents yet another rejection by Scotland of “UK” politics and I believe that, as previously stated, a second independence referendum is now inevitable. The First Minister has herself confirmed this morning that the Scottish Government is now going to actively pursue one whilst also seeking to negotiate directly with the EU to try to preserve and protect our relationship. I do not believe that we will find that door to be particularly tightly closed.
As for Leave, once they’ve dealt with the resignation of David Cameron, probably a few key allies too, and have taken over the Tory party they’ll have to get into the grit of actually disengaging with the EU.
The EU Commission has already made it clear, understandably, that they would prefer Article 50 to be triggered as soon as possible so that they can get the whole business done and dusted. Leave, however, are still trying to be cagey. Some of the talking heads in the media today are still even hinting at an “alternative” plan like a Vienna Convention type disengagement. The big problem with that idea is that, even if it’s possible, it can be vetoed by any of the remaining 27 states. If the EU insists that Article 50 and a formal discussion is the way to go then it can indeed insist that it shall be.
It’s still very far from certain what the UK’s future relationship with Europe will actually be once all is done and dusted.
Indeed, there’s an outside chance that a Brexit may not yet happen. It could be that the Tory leadership changeover results in a General Election…which the Tories then lose. Labour, especially one which actively campaigned on the point, could well ignore the referendum result. At this point I wouldn’t discount any possibility, no matter how unlikely.
Assuming though that Boris Johnson and chums take the reigns and we go through Article 50 and Brexit happens, there’s still several possibilities (ranging from EFTA, through a set of Swiss style biateral treaties, through a CETA/TTIP type deal and out to the “default” WTO regulations only) which I outlined here.
I’m particularly disturbed by some of the rhetoric which stuck. Lord Ashcroft’s on-the-day polling found a solid correlation between likelihood of voting Leave and support for the argument that it would help “Take Back Control”.
I mentioned in my article on sovereignty that countries which pin themselves to the idea of national level politics, especially to the point of it becoming a geas, can bind themselves into the Globalisation Trilemma. If, as I suspect they will, Leave use their win to forge towards turning the UK into some kind of Free Market paradise then the concept of democratic politics could find itself severely compromised.
Speaking of the Free Market, it was in the financial world that the most “excitement” of election night was to be found. The polls, public and private, in the days running up to voting day had starting indicating a Remain vote. This had pushed the value of the GBP up significantly as traders started “buying the rumour“. When the Sunderland vote came in though it was the first indication that things were not going to go well for Remain. That one result caused a panic sell in the markets which did not improve as the night went on. By morning, the “Great” British pound had fallen to the weakest point seen since 1985 and, after a morning-after retracement, had lost 8% of its value. This is the worst single day hit that the pound has ever taken, twice as deep as plunge as 1992’s “Black Wednesday” and the third deepest single day hit ANY major currency has taken in modern times. History books shall be written on this point alone.
It should be of very careful note that against the Euro, the Pound lost about 10% of its value compared to 2015. This is important because the UK had a trade deficit with the EU of about £68 billion in 2015. Assuming all things other than currency being equal then that trade deficit could be expected to rise to £75 billion simply because it’s now more expensive to import goods and services from Europe.
This difference in trade, around £7 billion, represents almost exactly the amount that Leave claimed that we’d “save” in net contributions to the EU. There may well be no gains, no money for the NHS or anything else that was promised. I hope I’m wrong. Because if I’m not, the areas which most voted Leave are also the areas most likely to be dependent on the EU for trade. They will be the areas most reliant on a good deal and/or economic plan for what comes after.
As for Scotland, it’s looking now almost inevitable that this result will hasten another go at an independence referendum and, this time, not only will it not be called until we’re ready but it’s looking rather like a lot of former No voters who had been promised that their vote would ensure their EU membership have now seen that whisked away. It has been enough to convince many that independence is now the best option ahead of Scotland. If you happen to be one of them, Welcome.
The Greens and the SNP, will now be exploring all options to protect and preserve our EU relationship. We’re in very uncertain times now with few precedents to guide us so what form this will all take is a matter of pure speculation.
My own preferred option could take the form of direct negotiations between the Scottish Government and the EU resulting in some kind of deal whereby if an independence referendum is held and won in the period before formal Brexit then a newly independent Scotland could “inherit” the UK’s old seat with no loss of continuity. Of course, this would require the co-operation of the Westminster government to allow such negotiations to take place or to even acknowledge that the result in Scotland is significant. It would be a tragedy of democracy if we were simply ignored.
I’ve got no easy answers for the next few months, or years. I’m as much an unwilling passenger as everyone else who voted Remain yesterday. I’ll try my best to work out where we’re going just as soon as it becomes apparent though. And who knows. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get off early.