Brexit and Regrexit: chaos and panic

by George Hatjoullis

Day 2 of the Brexit aftermath was even more astonishing than day 1, though this may be because I am somewhat immune to financial market volatility. I am told some people voted to Leave and now regret it. The reported reason is that they were just protesting and did not expect a national majority in favour of Leave. It is unclear whether this group is quantitatively large but I suspect it is larger than anyone wants to acknowledge. Not content with being stupid these people seemed determined to flaunt their stupidity in public. Speechless! There may be more regrets as the Brexit camp systematically admits it will not honour many of its lies promises.

A petition asking the government to observe an EU rule on referendums (ironic no!) has reached 2.8 million. Apparently if the majority is less than 60% on a turnout of less than 75% then a new referendum can be (must be?) called. One Labour MP has called for the referendum to be ignored as it was only advisory. Strictly speaking this is true but not quite that simple. The Liberal Democrats are promising to stand on a platform of no exit at the next general election, implicitly making the next general election a second referendum. Unfortunately, this may be 3 years away and someone may have triggered article 50 before then. It only works if there is a general election very soon and, basically, this year.

The leaders of other EU states have held an impromptu meeting and demanded the UK hurry up and leave. This is quite astonishing and constitutes interference in domestic UK affairs. It is this kind of behaviour that has earned the EU a bad press. One can understand their position but as the referendum is only advisory and the UK has not invoked article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, there is no basis for them to comment. Of course, they must have been briefed by Cameron when he negotiated his ‘deal’ and know more than is public, but still, protocol suggests they are premature. Their visible panic is understandable as the UK Brexit outcome is a symptom of a disease that has afflicted much of Europe and they don’t want an epidemic.

The UK government now only has a temporary prime minister and will not have a new administration until November. A civil war is emerging with an anyone-but-Boris camp. The official opposition is having its own civil war and leadership challenge. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is AWOL (or maybe MIA). The country presently is not being governed. Scotland (and possibly Northern Ireland) is openly planning a rebellion and secession. It is an extraordinary situation. The press is busy analysing why it has come to this rather how the hell the situation is going to be resolved.

There are no authoritative voices to speak up and take control. They were destroyed by the Leave campaign. The prospect of protracted uncertainty has put the economy on hold and some businesses are reported to be relocating staff when it is practical. The financial markets have had their knee jerk response. They will now have a considered response. 52% of the UK electorate has chosen to self-harm as a cry for help. Unfortunately they are inflicting the harm on us all. Perhaps we deserve it for not listening to them sooner. The EU is a very insensitive parent. It has little choice.

The EU is not about to make life easy for the UK. Economics is irrelevant. The UK exit poses an existential threat to the EU far greater than the eurozone crisis. The UK will be made an example to discourage any other member states from using EU membership to settle domestic political disputes or achieve preferential opt outs. If the UK triggers article 50 we will be out on our ear in two years with no preferential deal. The Tory party of both camps know this and the meeting of EU states this weekend was a signal for those that have yet to be convinced. Only UKip and racist groups are ready to pay any price. Most of the country does not even understand what it might cost.

So what now? The answer is simply nothing until the Conservative Party elect a new leader. She or he must then make a big decision. In the meantime the propaganda battle continues. If you thought the referendum would end on 23 June then you are as naive as those that voted Brexit and now Regrexit. The Resistance is forming and the battle to stay in the EU has already begun.