The greatest gamble of David Cameron’s career has failed. Today reporters will gather around Downing Street in expectation of the prime minister’s resignation. Britain wakes to years of uncertain negotiation with the European Union, having voted by a narrow margin to leave. Britain is free to prosper outside the EU after a referendum campaign that has torn apart families, friends, and created an atmosphere of unprecedented hostility. A blow has been struck against the experts and the elites. The path has been cleared for Boris Johnson to become both leader of the Conservative Party and prime minister. It is possible that the Queen and Prince Philip cheered the result, but across the city there will be acknowledgement that Britain must now be prepared to endure years of pain before the economy sees any light at the end of the tunnel.
“We’ve won our country back!” many will proclaim, and amid rumours that Nigel Farage will accept a peerage to serve in Boris Johnson’s cabinet. Inward migration, the subject so misjudged by Tony Blair, has unified the right of the Conservative Party with Ukip. Fears over Turkey, slogans warning that Britain was at ‘breaking point’ and a relentless focus on the social pressures of mass immigration helped successfully persuade the British people that a return to austerity was the price worth paying for control. Rejecting experts, the British people have disproved the long-held belief that when it comes to how people vote, “it’s the economy, stupid.”
The pound, weakened by fears of Brexit, has fallen sharply to a 30 year low as investor confidence in Britain tumbles following the announcement. Across the country we can expect talk of relocation and job cuts. It is likely, following tensions during the campaign, that the governor of the Bank of England will join David Cameron and George Osborne in resigning. Britain’s MEPs won’t be the only people to lose their jobs. Businesses are likely to invest within the European Union while the terms of Britain’s exit negotiation are finalised over the course of the parliament. Boris Johnson’s first step as prime minister is likely to be to call for an early general election in which he will handsomely beat a lacklustre Labour campaign led by Jeremy Corbyn, and increase the Conservative majority in Parliament.
With jobs and investment headed to the continent, Milennials fortunate enough to be in employment are expected to reap the benefits of a predicted crash in the UK’s housing market. For millions of voters, for whom modern Britain has changed too fast, and beyond recognition, the loss of value in their homes is more than compensated for by the opportunity to institute a points-based immigration system that allows the UK to treat EU migrants in the same way as those from the rest of the world. Many Brexiteers will hope that Britain’s future will now look more like its past.
Polling shows that the tragic killing of Jo Cox did not harm the Leave campaign. Some voters perhaps became more fearful and as a result more insular in their outlook. For Remain campaigners, bitterly disappointed at the outcome, there will be frustration at the inability of Leave supporters to see the consequences of months of campaign rhetoric indistinguishable from comments said to have been made by the man charged with her death. That the incident pushed voters towards Leave, when Jo Cox herself backed Remain, is a painful irony. The end of the referendum is a chance to try and heal divisions, but some scars will never disappear.
On the continent, the vote for Brexit will be met with hostility and derision. The French will tear up their border agreements with the UK, forcing the UK border back to Kent. The Germans, keen to maintain the stability of the European Project, are likely to string the negotiation out for as long as possible. The delay in finalising the terms of the UK’s post-EU arrangements will cost the country economic growth, and deter inward investment. The result will be a painful and messy divorce designed to deter further departures from the Union. Britain has set a precedent, and Germany will ensure that it is an unattractive one.
Time will tell whether Britain really is better off out, but the jubilation of Leave campaigners is redolent of a campaign that projected hope and optimism over project fear. Division and frustration will remain after a shockingly personal campaign that many feel contributed to a negative political atmosphere in which an MP was assassinated. Defeated remainers must now hope that they were wrong, and that the Brexiters’ sunny optimism in Britain’s independent future was not misplaced. We are no longer a passenger in the European project. We have voted leave, taken control, and now we have nobody else to blame for the steering.