UK In Chaos Post-EU Referendum

“We don’t have a government, we don’t have an opposition,” said satire magazine editor Ian Hislop on BBC’s Question Time, Thursday.

The Prime Minister appeared on the morning after the EU Referendum vote to announce his resignation, effective a long time hence. Since then, the ship of State has been not so much rudderless as uncaptained. Mr Cameron’s irresponsibility is lamentable: just before impact, he has left the bridge for others to steer the country off the rocks.

The Referendum was always going to be divisive. But with US Presidential elections, the often very bitter and unscrupulous fight beforehand is followed by a period of reunification under the flag. In Britain, this has not happened so far.

A major reason is the prolonged failure to declare the result completely irrevocable. There were no "hanging chads": 52 percent to 48 is a clear margin and many divisions in Parliament are decided on less. More British people voted on the Leave side than have ever previously voted for any issue or political party.

But the losers’ hope continued, because nobody in authority squelched it fast. Cameron’s restrained - and patently regretful and reluctant - call to “respect” the outcome invited talk of the Referendum being non-binding, especially in a perfervid atmosphere in which mutual respect was often absent among the public. The amateur propaganda, insults and smears in social media over the last couple of weeks intensified as it seemed possible that there might be some way to declare the result void for lack of a greater majority; or to re-run the vote because of alleged misinformation prior to the ballot and “buyer’s remorse” after it. Some even said young people’s votes should have more weight, because they have longer to live with the decision!

So 4 million people signed an online petition reading, “We the undersigned call upon HM Government to implement a rule that if the remain or leave vote is less than 60% based [on] a turnout [of] less than 75% there should be another referendum.” [By the way, it turns out that 77,000 of the signatories seemed to originate from the Vatican – population 800 - but that’s another story, and it still leaves a lot of unhappy activists, if a few keystrokes counts as action.]

Only today – 15 days after the result was known - has the government firmly ruled out any revisit of the issue. This was the response (in part):

“The Act did not set a threshold for the result or for minimum turnout… The Prime Minister and Government have been clear that this was a once in a generation vote and, as the Prime Minister has said, the decision must be respected. We must now prepare for the process to exit the EU and the Government is committed to ensuring the best possible outcome for the British people in the negotiations.”

See it all here.

But this emphatic response, late in any case, wasn’t the Prime Minister’s. The statement came from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, whose current ministerial head is MP Philip Hammond (a Remain supporter, but doing his duty to clarify the situation in which we find ourselves).

No, the Prime Minister’s position was to be found in a pamphlet circulated to the nation back in April. Controversially, although the Government was permitting its ministers free voice and vote, it leafletted 27 million homes at a cost of £9.3 million (what’s that in dollars? I can’t keep track of the currency speculation) to set out its reasons why we should Remain. See it online here - and turn to page 14, headed “A once in a generation decision.” The centre column reads,“This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.”

Cameron could have reaffirmed this in unmistakable terms on June 24 and that would have been that. And he didn’t.

Back in 2013, he promised an EU vote if the Conservatives won in 2015, not expecting to have to make good on it – almost everybody expected yet another Coalition and hadn’t factored-in the effect of so many Scots abandoning Labour in favour of Caledonian separatism. Even then, and to the last moment, he didn’t expect to lose - on the day of the turnout a Populus poll put Remain 10 points ahead.

So now the Government, whose responsibility (as one of the Question Time audience said) is planning for all contingencies, has no plan. Cameron is a dead man walking, by his own declaration, and 150,000 Conservative Party members will eventually (in September) decide the leader not only of their Party but of the whole country.

No wonder there are calls for a General Election, notwithstanding the 5-year term-of-office rule that came into effect only last year. Yet absent a draft negotiating position with the EU from which we will soon be divorced, candidates cannot take a stance and the country’s voters will not know how to decide between them.

And the chaos is replicated among the Opposition party, Labour. The Parliamentary Labour Party attempted a putsch in recent days, aimed at unseating the leader Mr Corbyn; the response has been 200,000 more people joining the Labour Party to support their leader, bringing the membership to its highest level since the historic Labour General Election landslide in 1945. Clearly the Blairite faction lacks the support of Party members, and in a number of cases their constituencies also voted Leave when the MP’s position was for Remain.

Division, lack of leadership, chaos. Fortunately the British, mostly a phlegmatic lot, will muddle through. At least - at last - one decision has been made; now, many more lie before us.

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David B. Johnson 8 years ago Member's comment

Yes, chaos is the only winner here. Though I think the #Brexit vote was pretty close and many of those who did vote, are now regretting it. I'd say it's more an issue of #regrexit rather than people being sore losers.

Rolf Norfolk 8 years ago Contributor's comment

Hi David, and thanks for your comment.I think we will eventually see that the escape was worth it. Imagine if Blair had actually managed to get us into the Eurozone. This is not going to be cost-free, but many of the bad things that will happen were on their way anyway, because of longstanding economic mismanagement - Conservative as well as Labour. The EU is about to tighten its grip on the remaining members and the disparities between them will worsen, perhaps to the point of major crisis. As to buyer's remorse, people have had years to consider their position, and must take responsibility for their actions.