United Kingdom, what have you done?
I don’t normally write posts on the spur of the moment. But I feel compelled to do so today.
I woke up this morning to discover that the UK has voted to leave the EU, by a 52:48 margin.
Money markets have responded instantly and decisively. The pound has crashed, showing unprecedented falls. The FTSE has also nose-dived.
Let’s be clear: this is a knee-jerk reaction and both will, at least in some measure, bounce back over the next week or two. The Leave campaign leaders will point to this recovery triumphantly. But the real battle is only just beginning.
It will take two years (possibly more if the other EU member states allow) to negotiate the UK’s exit. New trade deals will have to be negotiated, not just with the EU but with the US and all our international trade partners. They won’t be better; they may be less favourable. We shall see. Part of the EU trade deal will involve the extent to which we abide by its laws and regulations. We will negotiate a degree of freedom for the UK; how much remains to be seen.
What this will not be is a rapid return to the glory days of the Empire, with the UK once again in full control of its sovereign destiny. For one thing, we have given up our seat at the EU’s top table and our power of veto. It may turn out to be better in the long-term; it may not. In the short-term, for sure, there will be uncertainty, there will be a hit on the economy; people may (and probably will) lose their jobs, especially in businesses reliant on EU exports.
Will it be the disaster the Remain campaign predicted or will we see the swift return to prosperity the Leave campaign are so confident of? The majority of economists and business leaders are pessimistic. The reality is that no one really knows. (And if they do, can they please tell me Saturday’s lottery numbers too?)
UKIP leader Nigel Farage has already called the outcome of this vote, “a victory for ordinary people, a victory for decent people.” I’m sure he didn’t really mean to imply that the 48% of voters (a mere 16 million people) who voted Remain aren’t ordinary and decent. But he did, and I am suitably insulted.
He has also referred to the campaign being won “without a single bullet being fired.” I’m not sure Jo Cox’s family would agree.
I will leave it to wiser minds than mine to debate and predict what will happen now. It is a long road ahead of us now and who knows where we will end up?
I bear no malice against the majority of Leave voters. (I am, however, ashamed of the way politicians on both sides and the media have covered this campaign but that’s a different story.) They have made their decision and while I disagree with it and many of their reasons for doing so, I also accept that we live in a democracy and, as in life, I accept that sometimes things don’t go the way I would like them to.
But now is not the time for us to stay rooted to our chosen sides.
Now is the time for us to take down the fences that have been built so high over the past few acrimonious weeks, dividing families, friends and colleagues.
Now is the time to prove that we are not a nation of Little Englanders, an un-United Kingdom.
Now is the time to prove the fears of the Remain campaign and its supporters (remember, 48%) wrong. Because they are many.
I fear for so many things. For the economy. For jobs. For the UK’s place on the world stage. Most of all, I fear for the anti-immigrant sentiment that my kids – the children of a son of immigrants – may have to face. I wrote earlier this week about the broad and potentially long-lasting divisions this campaign has created.
But now is not a time for fear. It is a time to bring a divided nation back together, find its common voice and move forward into whatever the future brings.
It is a time for hope.
So why am I finding it so difficult to find any this morning? Come on, UK. Prove me wrong and give me hope. Please.