it’s been quite a week for all sorts of reasons. In the wake of the Referendum last Thursday we have seen political and economic turmoil from Friday onwards. The Leave campaign won it by 52%-48%, and within hours the Prime Minister had resigned. There followed a day of media frenzy, when it seemed as if the BBC didn’t even have enough staff to follow the events as they developed. Farage celebrated, later went to the European Parliament to gloat embarrassingly about the result, and was then admonished for the mendacity and negativity of his campaign. Gove and Johnson sensibly went to ground to let the frenzy subside a little.
I have to say that I was very surprised by the result; I had voted Remain as had most people I knew. Of course, living in Brighton may give a biased perspective on the rest of the country. It seems as if apart from Scotland, London and some other large metropolitan areas such as Manchester, most other places voted Leave. As a result of the result, many young people began to complain that the elderly had scuppered their chances for the future; then I discovered that of 18-24 year olds only 36% turned out to vote!
Then we had the spectacle of Donald Trump landing in Scotland and congratulating locals about the result but clearly not realising that the Scots had voted overwhelmingly to Remain. It was timely however, as the British political scene was to become more farcical as days went by. I never thought my Americans friends would be asking me what on earth was going on here, as it’s usually been the other way around. The Tory Party has begun the healing process but now has to elect a new leader who will be Prime Minister. Even that contest will not be straightforward; it was expected that Boris Johnson would be the prime candidate for that job, and certainly the bookies had him as favourite, but yesterday he dramatically ruled himself out of the contest several hours after his Brexit pal Michael Gove had unexpectedly ruled himself in. Johnson’s withdrawal speech carried the whiff of betrayal as he cited ‘circumstances in Parliament’ for his change of heart. Gove syas he has realised that Boris is not the man now, so he will stand instead. So now we have Theresa May as the front runner, five candidates in all and all to play for over the coming weeks.
Whoever gets the job will surely wish to secure a mandate by holding an election at some point fairly soon, but first of all there is the small matter of the ‘divorce ‘ from Europe to negotiate, and there seems to be little consensus even about the method of doing that. Of course we want to get a good deal, to be able to trade as before, but to be a part of the single market still hinges on allowing the principle of freedom of movement, as the Norwegians have found out. It may also be true that our former friends in Europe may not be too helpful. Some of them are keen to push us out of the EU door now that we have decided to go – it’s hard to blame them.
With an election possibly on the horizon, it would surely be time for the Labour Party to come back to the fore …but no. Unfortunately, many had seen a lack of enthusiasm in Jeremy Corbyn’s support for Remain, and judged that this might be the moment to call time on his leadership. He was seen as doing too little to encourage millions of working class people to vote with Labour in the Referendum, which somehow allowed the issue of immigration to dominate in small towns across the land. This week we have seen a vote of no confidence in his leadership passed by 172-40, and he has been asked to resign. He is refusing to do so, as he claims to still have the backing of the party members. An impasse has been reached; you really couldn’t write this as fiction! As I write there is talk of a leadership challenge, but the problem remains that he has the backing of the members if not the parliamentary party. What a mess!
Meanwhile we are swamped with stories of economic problems, the pound falling, millions wiped off pension funds and so on. Fortunately, the pound seems to have stabilised and we wait to see where we are in a few months time. The emergency budget mentioned beforehand by the Chancellor seems now not to be necessary but inevitably the money markets react badly to uncertainty.
In the backdrop of all this is the petition for another referendum, which has now something like 4 million signatures, 70.000 of them fraudulent, and some politicians are even talking about the need to hold a second one too! Then there is the question of Article 50 of the EU constitution, which triggers the exit procedure, and what it actually means. There is so much to do to extricate us from the EU and one wonders if there was ever a plan for this or if the heavy weights involved were even surprised by the result.
There are so many questions to be answered. Among them and hardly mentioned is the fate of the ‘jungle’ community at our border in Calais. I’m sure the French will be only too pleased to let them have their way and leave for the UK., where the problem would become ours. There would seem to be no reason for Britain to have our border in France any longer. The people of Dover must be waiting with bated breath! What changes will affect those several millions of Britons who currently live abroad, and what changes will the many immigrants living here face? Boris Johnson stated that there will be no changes for all of them, but they will surely be worried right now.
It is very disappointing to hear that xenophobic attacks have increased noticeably around the country in the last week. The police have reported a 50% increase in such incidents in the last week. I’m sure that is not what anyone wishes for our society, aside from the sort of racists who are still around but who have to be much more careful and subtle with their bile these days so as not to fall foul of the law.
The last straw was the football debacle against Iceland! It was a shambolic performance by a bunch of overpaid stars who by the end had lost all confidence, but we should acknowledge that Iceland are a decent team who have had many great results recently. It is rather arrogant to presume that they should be swept aside because they have a population the size of Leicester. By that logic we should always hammer the All Blacks at rugby, and I haven’t seen that happening. Anyway, the England manager has done the right thing by resigning soon after the match; another new leader required.
The prospect of Scotland leaving the EU because of Britain’s vote has obviously not pleased the Scots. It seems likely that they will decide to have another referendum soon, which may well lead them to separate from the rest of the UK. Meanwhile Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader and 1st Minister, has dashed over to Brussels to assure them that Scotland still wants to be part of the EU. As you can imagine, that didn’t go down too well with countries like Spain, who themselves have a group wanting to be separate.
One thing is certain – a whole host of civil servants will have a mountain of work to do to extricate us from the EU, and the process will inevitably take a long time, so complex is it.
It would be interesting to hear from some of you about the reaction to the Referendum result and possible ramifications for your business. Do give me examples of the way it has affected business in the short term, for example how the falling pound has affected your company’s trading, and whether you can see problems for the future outside of the EU.
Finally, and sadly, we came back down to earth with news of yet another terrorist attack, this time in Istanbul airport, where 40 have died and more than 200 are injured.
It’s been quite a week in Europe, even if we’re not really in Europe any longer.