This article was first published on 12th July 2016 by buildingdesign.co.uk
It is hard to refute the overwhelming declarations by learned economists before the referendum that Brexit would be bad news for the UK economically. On the face of it, the result of the referendum is not great for anyone who wants the UK to prosper. The comments from other leaders such as Obama also imply that we will have a smaller voice on the world stage.
The fact that the Leave campaign was beleaguered by people using headline-grabbing statements, such as £350m per week available for redistribution to worthy causes such as the NHS, was at best unhelpful given that Farage was quick to admit that this was a “mistake” following the result of the referendum. The deceit which some believe was behind this was terrible, not just because such behaviour is appalling in its own right, but because of the consequences. It is also quite incredible that the primary proponents of the Leave campaign have quickly deserted following the result.
However, the RemaIN campaign cannot exactly be lauded as an example of best practice either. The arguments made were clearly too weak for the general electorate to be swayed. If the RemaIN campaign had been truly united, with one voice singing together, then perhaps the result would have been different. The fact is that the RemaIN campaign was disjointed, and those in the major political parties supporting RemaIN would not collaborate.
The impact of the referendum result is beginning to be felt. The changes in the exchange rate with the other major currencies have led to increases in the costs of imported goods, which will affect the majority of things we purchase. We will simply be worse off and those who are impacted most will, as always, be those on the lowest incomes. Beyond the economy, many are concerned about what the Leave result actually means for us. There are concerns that our talented younger generation will not have the same opportunity to dip in and out of employment in other European countries and benefit from the cultural and life-forming experiences which such moves can bring. The ramifications on the make-up of the EU, and indeed even the UK, are of course unknown but we know that change in some fashion is inevitable.
So, is this all gloom and doom? Well, perhaps not. Since the referendum result, more people have been earnestly discussing the impact of Brexit, the “mistakes” used by Farage in the Leave campaign, and politics in general. Furthermore, the major political parties are in disarray. We have a Labour leader who is anything but – he has been disowned by the majority of his fellow Labour MPs, refused to share a platform with Cameron in the campaign because his interests in promoting the Labour party were greater than his belief in RemaIN, and still refuses to accept claims that the Labour party is currently unelectable. There is a schism in the Conservative party with a mix of RemaINers and Leavers. And the Liberal Democrats have been left as a minority party with little voice. The political landscape of the UK is ripe for change, and perhaps this will be the real legacy of the referendum. Will we see a new breed of politics? Will the Conservative party actually decide to sort themselves out and get clear on the EU issue? Will they divide so that the nation has a clear understanding of who is standing for what?
One of the criticisms made by politicians is that too few people are really engaged with politics. Well, this is because many people have frankly felt that they have had no voice and are disenfranchised. That has changed thanks to the 23 June 2016 result. We are in a different place. If a General Election is called as a result of a lack of confidence in the government being able to vote in accordance with the nation’s wishes on the EU issue, then we may see a complete sea-change in UK politics. This could of course result in a reversal in the UK’s position on the EU issue, but may also generate a completely new structure of the political make-up for the UK. If more of the electorate becomes truly engaged in politics and concerned about our role on the world stage, then this would be an incredibly positive outcome.
Finally, the result of the referendum might also be the catalyst for real reform of the European Union, which fundamentally was the issue really at stake even though we weren’t asked to vote on it! Even those in the RemaIN camp were desperate to see changes – it is just that they believed it was easier to negotiate the change whilst IN. Perhaps now is the time to negotiate terms on us RemaINing and contemplate what the government would do regarding the triggering of Article 50 if real reform is agreed.