What a mess. Even the most ardent of Brexit proponents asserted that political and economic volatility was an unavoidable consequence of Brexit but few would have predicted such a period of capriciousness as we have seen over the past few days.
Britain is now effectively without a leader, without a government, without a shadow cabinet and by default without a Parliamentary opposition. The House of Commons is in disarray, a mere microcosm of the events on the streets and in the homes of the nation where instances of casual racism are increasing by the day, and generation and class have been turned against one another.
Even the Brexit cabal of Johnson and Gove appeared in brazen shock on Friday morning. The former weary-eyed, the latter speaking quietly with a telling softness like a guilty toddler, both declaring their support for a doomed Prime Minister in a frivolous display of solidarity. Or was this more a plea for retribution than simply a show for the press?
The pair hardly seemed assured at the public’s decision like the unabashed Nigel Farage had hours earlier when declaring the 23rd of June, Britain’s Independence Day in front of jubilantly partisan audience. Indeed, they appeared more regretful than triumphant in mood; perhaps at the fact they were now required to lead the country through international diplomatic warfare rather than the inner-party coup they were allegedly planning.
This has been almost confirmed over the weekend by an anonymous Conservative Leave MP who admitted his side had prepared no plan for this eventuality to Sky News’ Faisal Islam. In fact, the lies and subterfuge began to unravel literally just minutes after the result has been declared. ‘We send the EU £350 million a week. Let’s fund our NHS instead’ shouted the slogan on the Leave campaign’s battle bus. This was unlikely to be the case, declared Nigel Farage on Friday Morning to Good Morning Britain’s incredulous Susannah Reid even before the clock had hit 7:00. Later that day, the anti-immigration ideologue Daniel Hannan MEP, who campaigned zealously on the promise of migration kerbs compounded this by admitting that such a policy was unlikely to be met, at least not in the near future.
The British public had been misled yet again by politicians acting under the guise of anti-establishmentism and numerous tales of regretful Leave voters were told across the news channels and via social media in the proceeding hours. A petition calling for a second referendum on the basis of a turnout of less than 75% and a winning margin of only 4%, hit 1.5 million signatures by Saturday afternoon and by Sunday evening had reached 3.5 million. David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, even floated the idea of parliament over-ruling the result of the referendum. Lammy, it has to be said, has a reputation for making rash calls but what must things have come to when Parliamentarians are threatening to overrule the general public?
It is too late for that anyway. Legally it may be possible but politically it is not and Britain now finds itself faced with a resentful EU bloc that is unlikely to forgive one of their former key-players. Jean-Claude Juncker well and truly asserted this by declaring that exit talks will start ‘as soon as possible’ and that it will not be an ‘amicable divorce’. Hardly encouraging for MP’s hoping to negotiate a generous trade deal when talks do get underway.
Indeed, the pressure already seems to be getting to Johnson who today admitted that the margin by which the UK voted to leave the European Union ‘was not entirely overwhelming’. Not exactly the sort of Churchillian determinism Brexiteers would have hoped for from their effective leader. Maybe the rumours were true after all and this is not what the former London mayor really wished for.
To make matters worse, Johnson now finds himself losing ground in a leadership battle that has not even begun yet with many Tory MP’s allegedly favouring the more circumspect Theresa May for Britain’s top job. If Boris really has just gambled the country’s future for the sake of his personal ambitions, it is already looking an ill-advised move.
Of course this would be a perfect opportunity for a strong opposition to hammer home the failings and misjudgements of the fractured government that has led us to this point. If only such an opposition existed. If the Conservatives are down a certain creek without the proverbial paddle, Labour have already been washed away and are on the verge of drowning.
In this most extraordinary of weeks, it was only fitting that it ended with some form of meltdown and that it did. No fewer than twelve shadow cabinet ministers resigned during the course of Sunday after Hilary Benn was sacked in the early hours for his part in a less-than-subtle coup on leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Many in the party blame the arch-socialist for the result of the referendum, citing his reluctant adherence to the party line as further evidence that Corbyn simply isn’t electable. Their leader spoke visibly through gritted teeth during the campaign, at times even criticising the EU when he was supposed to be speaking on its behalf. For a party founded on unity with workers, Labour is now inherently divided. Left fight right, Corbynists fight Blarites, Eurosceptics fight Unionists.
With the looming prospect of a snap-election the party is in disarray. The UKIP defectors across England nor the SNP voters in Scotland are likely to be enticed back by the sight of the in-fighting and weakness which has come to characterise Corbyn’s reign. Indeed, many of the shadow cabinet ministers who have resigned may well find themselves out of a job if they do not get their act together quickly.
In actual fact, the only place in British politics that seems united is, ironically, the Scottish separatists. As is so often the case, Nicola Sturgeon emerged from the events of Thursday into Friday to much acclaim from the media fanfare. While all those around her struggle to lead she masters the art, prompting many south of Hadrian’s Wall to long for someone of her calibre to captain the main parties.
Yet by its very nature, support for the SNP brings with it inherent disarray. Scottish separatism now seems more likely than ever after the nation was effectively dragged out of the EU by its southern neighbours. Astoundingly though, many Leave voters don’t appear to care much about this prospect. Englishness and Scottishness comes before Britishness in their eyes. ‘If Scotland wants to leave, let them’ is the attitude of many, but surely the break-up of a centuries-old nation is fundamentally a bad thing. It is nothing short of a tragedy that this sentiment is met with such ambivalence.
So where do we go from here? Well, Boris Johnson will probably be Prime-Minister within a couple of months, Jeremy Corbyn will likely not be leader of the opposition within one, and Scotland could be independent by the end of the decade. There is no doubt that Britain is in for a rough ride over the next few years and it needs a strong, united government and a strong, united opposition to lead us through it. Unfortunately, that does not seem likely at the moment, nor in the near future and all this is our own doing. We may actually, have just made the worst decision in our post-war history.