(A shorter version of it published previously as part of my weekly columns. Too important not to republish it here.)
It is not an easy column to write, not because every columnist here is drained after being awake for almost over two days now, but due to the sheer amount of events that happened that is difficult to note down. No adjective is worthy of use; seismic, political earthquake, an event unparalleled in modern history, all seems cliché. Journalists, policy makers, pollsters stunned, BBC, SKY, ITV, every channel and newspaper predictions failed showcasing how out of touch everyone was with the British masses. Even at 2:30 at night, YouGov was showing Remain a comfortable win, by 5:30, England and Wales voted Out, London, Scotland and Ireland voted In. My panicked EU colleagues calling and texting, students crying, pubs bizarrely full at 6 in the morning.
David Cameron came out hoarse and gaunt, his voice breaking, a shattered man, standing next to his wife, herself barely remaining composed, the fabled British stoicism failing on occasions. Cameron resigned, saying that though he will be there to steady the ship, the captain needs to change, in what might go down in history as the most lyrically poignant speeches ever given. Within the next three hours, the GBP went down in the single strongest recorded fall in a day, Northern Irish and Scottish nationalists demanded referendums on independence, Populists and Eurosceptics across Europe, from France to Italy and Netherlands, demanded their referendums to go out of EU, Juncker, Merkel, and Hollande said they respected British voices, Boris Johnson was tipped to be the next PM of Britain, and the Labour party of UK demanding a no confidence motion for Jeremy Corbyn. And it was not even 9:30 in the morning.
First things first, the referendum, as any other referendums, is non-binding. And from the look of it, nothing is going to change, and Article 50, of seceding from EU, will not be invoked anytime soon. Everyone calling for calm, and the head of German industries are lobbying to give Britain special powers, otherwise Germany’s economy is going to be ruined. The British government, as well as EU is trying its best to see nothing changes for EU citizens.
EU here faces a Machiavellian paradox. On one hand, it would want to punish UK, and scare off potential populist referendums in other countries, which will prolong the pain for everyone, and might trigger other referendums. On the other hand, if it goes too soft, others will think if UK can do it, so can we. It’s a no win situation, and if France, Italy and Netherlands get their referendums, denying such would be undemocratic of course, and allowing it might lead the EU to collapse.
Which brings us to David Cameron. If Cameron wanted this EU referendum to be his legacy, he got a hard one indeed, and will be a villain no matter which side it tilts.
When I was on the street to see another Bremain campaign, where I met both Labour and Tory campaigners, desperately and hopelessly try to swim a tide of growing Euroscepticism, as the Brexit camp soared to 46 % compared to 41 % of the Remainers, I found the same uneasy frustration of people fighting for a cause, they don’t really believe in. The truth is muddled, there is no uniformity in rhetoric, or consensus in economics, but it all boiled down to a slugfest and brutal personal attacks. The headline of Telegraph flashed, Cameron joins the Left to attack Boris, something which I never expected to see in my lifetime. The Trotskyist Lexit group and journalists of Spiked the self-proclaimed “culturally Marxist” magazine were rallying against the alleged turncoats on their own side. The whole of Britain seemed to be tearing itself apart, as flashes of the PM’s desperate, hopeless face light up the TV screens, in debates, almost pleading the audience to get his out of his misery.
But it wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be a straightforward negotiation with the EU Byzantine bureaucracy, wherein Cameron would have got concessions against migration, and EU human rights courts. It is accepted on both sides of the debate that not refugees, but uncharted migration, especially from Sub Saharan Africa and Pakistan, where there are not even wars going on are the biggest demographic threats facing EU and UK. Recent rape scandals and terror attacks increased that siege mentality even further, and people across EU believe that it’s nothing xenophobic or racist to seek a redress of this issue.
However, Cameron didn’t get what he wanted, and there were no way of satisfying his backbenchers. Added to that, it was the leadership ambition of Boris Johnson. “The PM deceived the UK on economy”, thundered Boris from his German-made red bus, wearing a rain-drenched jacket, as he railed the working class in supreme irony against the behemoth that is supposedly killing off entrepreneurship and competitiveness. Jacob Rees Mogg MP said the EU is the biggest experiment against democracy as it litigates and judges its own cases, and Michael Gove, perhaps the most erudite politician of modern Britain, one upped the PM saying one shouldn’t trust the experts, as they were wrong when they said UK should abolish Pound and take Euro, a decision which saved Britain’s economy, as it was not implemented.
Notable faces were absent. Theresa May, being one of them, quietly nursing her own leadership ambition. On the Labour side, Jeremy Corbyn marked his first intervention where he spend over all three minutes saying why we should be in EU and the rest on how the Remain camp is scaremongering, and savaging the PM, so much that one Labour leader said it was the greatest sabotage since second world war. It was the perfect speech worthy of a lifelong Eurosceptic, who is now the leader of the second largest political party, massed by people, resentful of centralized EU.
As Britain leaves, EU might tear itself apart and there will be fresh referendums in at least seven EU countries. If EU breaks up, London will be the hegemon in Europe and the German domination of Europe is over. If EU doesn’t break up? That might be taken as a symbol that the liberal economic hegemonic order is winning, which might increase in even further centralization in Brussels, and an EU army, which might lead to even further ultra-right backlash and fall of government in at least five countries.
There is honestly, no good prospect in the long run, not that I can see.
PM Cameron got his legacy, and posterity might remember him as an honest man who tried, or as a modern Chamberlain, too weak against the forces of history, who neither led his party boldly enough against EU, nor could maintain unity in his ranks. Cameron will leave his seat a diminished man. No matter what happens, it will be a fight decided by Tory civil war, which has already started, and which will only gain strength. Labour on the other hand, has diminished unfortunately to a fringe player.
At least, in that Cameron can take solace. It’s better for legacy to be loved and hated equally than to be forgotten. The legacy of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party now looks increasingly irrelevant, unless this no confidence motion succeeds and a new leader is elected.