I don’t write much about politics on this blog, preferring to mess about with fantasy and sci-fi, history and videogames. But today might well be the most momentous political event of my adult lifetime, and the article I had pencilled-in (videogames of E3) seems a bit limp given what’s happened overnight.
Instead, here’s a concise, hopefully objective, rundown of what has happened and what the future might hold.
Around 2014 UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party, which focuses [or focused...] on leaving the EU) was doing very well in the polls. It had enjoyed two defections from the Conservatives (MPs Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless) and went on to win the European Elections in the UK.
To help counter this threat, both at the General Election and in terms of stopping more MPs defecting, Prime Minister David Cameron chose to include a referendum on the country’s membership of the EU in the 2015 Conservative Party manifesto [NB an earlier referendum had been promised by both major parties over the Constitution, which became the Lisbon Treaty. This referendum was never held, and Brown signed the Treaty anyway].
There were various Leave and Remain campaigns. Almost all were characterised by exaggeration, misleading statements and ill-humour. Importantly, the traditional party lines were worthless. All parties were split, the governing Conservatives more than any other party, and the polls (after a very inaccurate 2015 set of forecasts) were viewed with some suspicion.
The prime advantage of Remain was the economy. For Leave, it was immigration. Other areas such as security/defence were more evenly split.
Foreign intervention during the campaign (for Remain) appears not to have worked well, with many taking Obama’s claim that the UK would be ‘at the back of the queue’ as insulting. However, such interventions were rare and did not play a major role.
[NB the first MP in a quarter of a century, Labour’s Jo Cox, was murdered about a week before polling day. This led to a suspension of campaigning for a few days. Opinion is divided as to the polling impact].
On polling day there was extensive rainfall, initially in Essex (mostly Leave) and then in London (strongly Remain). Turnout was generally high, around 72% (highest for a UK-wide vote this century, I think) but a little lower in Scotland than elsewhere.
The turnout in England was 73%, with 53.4% voting Leave.
The turnout in Scotland was 67.2%, with 38% voting to Leave.
The turnout in Wales was 71.7%, with 52.5% voting to Leave.
The turnout in Northern Ireland was 62.9%, with 44.2% voting to Leave.
So, England and Wales voted to Leave, Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to Remain. The overall result was 51.9% for Leave.
What Now? Part 1 – the EU
Leaving the EU happens by triggering Article 50. This is done by the PM (more on that role below). When triggered, a 2 year formal negotiation period occurs, at the end of which either a deal is agreed (it may be interim or permanent, I believe) or not. If not, the UK still leaves the EU but trade occurs under WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules. [Edited extra bit: the process of negotiation may be extended if both the UK and EU agree to it. Cheers to the comments for that].
More widely, pre-vote polling suggested if the UK voted to Leave a majority of Swedes (in the EU but not members of the single currency eurozone) would also want to leave the organisation. There are also significant numbers in France, the Netherlands and other EU countries who are sceptical or wish to leave.
A problem for the EU is how to react. If it tries to be harsh to the UK to deter other departures, that would substantially harm the Irish economy (Ireland has more trade with the UK than the rest of the EU combined). Not only that, the UK is a massive net importer from EU countries, so making trade difficult would hurt the EU a lot as well.
However, if a more lenient approach is taken and the UK does well, other countries may conclude that leaving the EU may work for them. That said, very few countries are in the EU but outside the eurozone, so we may see non-eurozone countries leave and eurozone nations integrate further (the latter is already underway).
A final note on Ireland: the particular political history here is fraught. Currently, the Northern Ireland/Irish Republic border is open. This may or may not be the case, depending how the exit negotiations go. It will almost certainly make the political situation even more turbulent.
What Now? Part 2 – party politics
David Cameron resigned the morning after the night before. His speech was dignified and statesmanlike, and I can’t help but feel had he spoken that way during the campaign Remain would have won handily. He anticipates a new Conservative leader (and therefore Prime Minister) being in place by October of this year.
There are various candidates. Boris Johnson is the first name that springs to mind, but, personally, I feel he will not get it. The single issue of British politics now is the departure from the EU, and whilst Boris is seen by many as a likeable man, he is seen by few as a hard-headed negotiator with a head for details. Teresa May, who kept largely out of the fray, must be a strong contender. Others such as Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan and George Osborne seem unlikely (respectively: don’t want it, not sharp enough, too disliked).
Cameron has said he will not trigger Article 50 (see above), and that it is a matter for his successor.
At the time of writing (12.39pm on Friday), Labour MPs are rumoured to be laying down a motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn. We may have an unprecedented degree of disunity and leadership elections in both major parties.
A General Election is scheduled for 2020, but it is possible the Fixed Term Parliament Act could be repealed and a snap(ish) election held in the next 6-12 months. It is possible UKIP could do very well at such elections, although they’ve flattered to deceive in both 2010 and 2015.
It’s just over a year ago that Cameron won a shock majority in the 2015 General Election.
What Now? Part 3 – end of the UK?
In 2014 Scotland voted 55% to remain within the UK. A second referendum north of the border looks very likely. It is not certain, however.
There is a possibility the new PM may opt for a close relationship with the EU, whereby free trade and movement of people continues to occur (this would necessitate, in all likelihood, a second UK-wide referendum as migration was such a critical concern in the vote just gone). If that were the case, and it were accepted, an independence vote in Scotland seems unlikely.
However, it is more likely than not that within a few years Scotland will have another vote. Some serious issues from last time remain unanswered (what currency to use?), but Scotland’s strong showing for Remain will be seen by many as reasonable grounds for another vote (although it must pass in the Holyrood Parliament).
Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister of Scotland, has stated today that she would want the referendum to be held within the 2 year negotiation period following the instigation of Article 50. The timing is interesting as, if held then, it would mean Scotland may not actually leave the EU but continue inside it, but also that Scotland would be voting whilst negotiations between the UK and EU were ongoing.
There are also (as above) potential difficulties in Northern Ireland, with a possible resurgence in republican sentiment that may cause a corresponding rise in unionist feeling.
But, apart from the UK’s position regarding the EU, the next Prime Minister, the next Leader of the Opposition, the continuing existence of the UK and whether other EU nations may elect to leave it, everything’s looking pretty stable.