Britain has voted for self-harm. That probably sounds like hyperbole but both economically and politically, the news today is bearing this out.
The pound has dropped to a 30 year low. The Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 (more commonly FTSE, or FTSE 100 or “Footsie”) fell 8.7% and recovered to 4.2% (as of this writing). Consider that ordinarily, a fall in half a percent is a significant event.
Scientists tell me their funding is partly or wholly from the European Union. Lawyers and accountants point out that much of their business relies on free access to Europe. I worry about the fate of my fellow healthcare professionals when 1 in 10 doctors and 1 in 25 nurses are from the EU. At a time when we need more, how are we going to fill those gaps? Pensions, savings, house prices all are at risk and the fruit of many lifetimes’ of hard graft will go to waste.
Economics though, is only part of the story.
David Cameron has resigned and will step down in October. He is either a coward, naive or a naive coward. He is at best an average but more accurately a bad politician.
Against a weak Gordon Brown, he failed to achieve a majority in 2010, needing the Liberal Democrats to hold his hand. He used the Lib Dems as an excuse to tame the Tory right. In 2015, he managed only a pathetic majority of 12 against an awful Ed Miliband campaign, again thanks largely to the Liberal Democrat annihilation and the SNPs yellow-wash of Scotland, taking many Labour heartlands.
In light of UKIP success in the 2014 European elections, the Prime Minister called for this referendum. He much fanfare of a renegotiation with Brussels – though these changes were of importance, they were rather minor (and now irrelevant). After years of promising to bring migration into the tens of thousands, that Mr Cameron led the Remain campaign at all now seems utterly misjudged.
These vacuous promises undermined any chance of him running a pro-immigration campaign. He meekly said his renegotiation would lead to a reduction in migration, a laughable claim to even a casual observer. He tried to steer the debate towards economics but picked the most ridiculous claims, rather than sticking to the facts that were already stark enough.
Then, after the referendum result, at a time when Britain needs stability, he has run away. Even Conservatives and Leave supporters are glad to see the back of him – he epitomises what happens when average people are allowed to make difficult decisions. History may remember him as a man who destroyed Britain’s economy.
Scotland and Northern Ireland
Nicola Sturgeon has all but announced a second referendum on independence. Rightly so. Scotland voted to Remain. She will want to join the euro, a currency arguably more stable than the pound. This eliminates a primary argument against leaving. The economic security of British union is gone too.
As for Northern Ireland, the only path to prosperity seems to be remaining in the EU. The only way to do that is as a united Ireland. The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic must be kept open. Customs officials and soldiers with guns will revive tensions that have largely though not completely been quelled. There may be a referendum there too it seems. It is not out of the question that will bring with it violence.
“Spineless”, in the words of Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader. Labour MPs are currently working to remove him. He failed to share a platform with David Cameron until Jo Cox was shot dead. He failed to passionately make the case to stay in, meaning many Labour voters stayed home. His first real challenge as party leader, he has been an abject, abject failure.
Fundamentally though, this debate came down to immigration vs the economy. By the end of the campaign, Vote Leave largely avoided talking about the economy, Remain campaigners avoided talking about immigration. Britain chose, albeit by a whisker, immigration.
The poorest in Britain have been sold a lie. Immigrants have not made them poorer. Their impact on public finances is small and they are net contributors to the Treasury. They are also vital in aforementioned sectors such as healthcare – they tend to do jobs where the supply is low. Pressure in local areas can be mitigated by funding public services proportionally to the change in migrant population – this is a domestic issue, not an international one.
I always thought of this country as an open place. Yes, all places have problems with race and immigration. Much of the issue with migration is a belief that immigrants cause economic problems. But there is no doubt some of it is simply a desire to not have people who are different living near you. What is a British Asian man supposed to do about that?
As though trying to fulfil a stereotype, most shouts of “Leave” and “Out” were from white white van men and builders. Ironically, it is precisely these sort of services which will be hit. We have failed for decades to have a sensible conversation about immigration. We failed to do it in the campaign. We have failed to remain members of the EU.
There are many, many Leave voters who have legitimate reason for voting that way. Still, I cannot shake the feeling that there are Leave voters would be happy to see anybody who isn’t white and British gone as well.