Brexit - Keep calm (and considered) and carry on.
When the referendum result was announced on the morning of Friday 24 June the world was taken by surprise. Everyone knew it would be close but no-one expected a vote to leave. Everything was thrown into turmoil as everyone panicked. The markets lost 6% in the first morning, sterling fell to 1.32 against the dollar and hysteria reigned supreme. The markets (which should never be taken as a barometer of economic prediction) recovered, returning to the same position as three days earlier. The political classes, however, continued to unravel as the broadcast media struggled to keep up with the resignations, allegations, votes of no confidence and accusations that permeated Westminster. The political fallout continues and will continue until a new Conservative leader (and consequently Prime Minister) is elected at which time a strategy needs to be devised, discussed and implemented.
For the rest of the country, a period of calm needs to pervade the nation. The hysteria evident especially by areas of the country where a large remain vote occurred is still palpable. The 48% (especially those in the London bubble) need to accept the result and work out a way to move forward – not accepting the result is not an option. It is very difficult for businesses, citizens and politicians in London to understand how and why 17.4m people voted to leave and therein lies the problem. The arguments against leaving, particularly economic, are valid and so it is difficult to see why voters, and so many voters, would vote against economic prosperity. However, this prosperity is not evenly distributed. The economic success and the UK growth has benefited London disproportionately and certain sectors specifically. These are the people who can see this economic success disappearing and who also fail to see that the inequality (which has not been in any way addressed) led to the vote to leave. The EU is seen as part of an establishment that perpetuates this inequality and is seen along with Westminster, big businesses and even London, as ignoring their plight. Their concerns over immigration were ignored. It is extremely unlikely that a vote to leave will reduce immigration (without doing significant damage to the economy) but the government needs to engage with the voters, especially in the regions, to detail what they intend to do and how this will be to their specific benefit.
As part of the strategy and public engagement we, as a country, need to determine what we are actually trying to achieve. It cannot be assumed that reducing immigration is the sole objective, nor that the people of Britain do not want to engage with the EU. Collaboration at every level on every subject must be the best way forward. Whilst an in/out referendum is inevitably binary, the reaction to it and the policies adopted need not be. We need calm and considered heads rather than emotional kneejerk responses. Angela Merkel is an extremely calm and pragmatic leader and should steer the EU towards a more collaborative path rather than the ‘teach them a lesson’ approach of EU Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. Whilst the EU do want to discourage future members from holding referenda or even contemplating departure, this needs to be done through demonstrating the benefits of remaining rather than highlighting the penalties of leaving (a strategy David Cameron probably now regrets).
Finally, we all have to accept the result and calmly work through a strategy rather than creating legal obstacles, trying to initiate another referendum or eliciting recriminations. Ignoring the democratic will of the people would simply serve to confirm to the leave voters that the establishment will do what they want regardless of the will of the people. Centre parties (left and right) must genuinely listen to the concerns of the voters if they are not going to lose ground to extreme parties on both ends of the political spectrum.