Yes, well done Britain! Faced with a difficult choice between one option that was backed by just about everyone with any detailed working knowledge of the question and another promulgated by an assortment of liars, charlatans and has-beens, you went for the latter. For far too long, this country has been misled and mismanaged by people who know what they are talking about, and a narrow majority have finally said “Enough!. Let’s give misdirected and uninformed gut-feeling a chance!”. And sure enough, some of those experts have already been proved wrong. They said that there would be a big run on the pound sterling and a crash in share prices within a couple of days of a vote to leave the EU. How wrong they were. It only took a few hours.
There is, of course, nothing funny about the EU Referendum result. The whole thing was unnecessary: a simplistic attempt by Cameron to shoot the UKIP fox at the 2015 General Election by stealing one of their big selling points. Presumably David Cameron, now firmly nailed onto the results board as the most weak and incompetent Prime Minister since Anthony Eden, smugly assumed that he and his chums would effortlessly see off the UKIP oiks. A less complacent, even moderately intelligent, PM would have realised that politicians are about the most distrusted people in Britain, so the best way to win the referendum would be to let the Remain case be fronted by non-politicians with a strong public profile, such as Richard Branson and Eddie Izzard, in contrast to the mendacious, venal politicians fronting Leave. But no, Cameron and Osborne simply wouldn’t keep their faces out of the cameras, thereby ensuring that at least some of the Leave vote was simply an I-cannot-stand-them vote. Leave did not win the referendum, Remain lost it through the same complacent stupidity that led to it being held in the first place.
Who fell for the Johnson-Gove-Farage con? In this part of the country, Leeds, York and Harrogate backed Remain. Those three places have a high proportion of voters with post-18 education, and I doubt if that is coincidental. Rural Yorkshire largely backed Leave, in an act of economic self-immolation. The small livestock farmers typical of this rural area are heavily dependent on EU subsidy and support payments, including payments for environmental schemes. Did they vote Leave in the naïve belief that a future UK government would maintain those levels of subsidy? If so, they were misled or deluded or both. The next five to ten years will see a great many casualties among small farming businesses, especially here in the North. Sometimes you actually do get what you voted for.
The wider consequences of the loss of subsidy for the rural environment are more difficult to predict. It is a safe bet, I think, that the great improvements in river water quality and cleanliness of beaches that have been a success story over the last 30 years will be steadily reversed. Without the various EU Directives setting those high standards, Britain’s privatised water companies will waste no time in arguing for weaker pollution standards so they can cut costs. In a choice between wildlife and shareholders there can only be one winner, and no foreseeable UK government will want to be seen to be maintaining EU Directives once the UK is outside the EU. Similarly, fragile and protected heath and wetland habitats will be under increased threat, with no supra-national body to hold the UK government to account. The one bright spot is the possibility of some rewilding-by-default where economic recession and subsidy loss leads to the abandonment of marginal farmland.
One of the worst things about the Referendum result is what it says about prevailing attitudes amongst the UK electorate. The Leave campaign rightly assumed that their message should be kept simple and directed at the lowest common denominator, hence the emphasis on migration and borders. Although the Faragistas were the worst offenders in this regard, Gove and Johnson failed to speak out against the blatant Leave xenophobia so they are complicit and just as guilty. The outcome of the vote will probably reduce net immigration in the short- to medium-term, if only because emigration will increase, but since when was a brain-drain a desirable outcome? Already on social media there are trolls telling Remain voters to **** off to an EU country if you like it so much. Many will, and many more of us will give it serious thought. A friend said to me recently that she no longer recognised this country. I do: but what I recognise is the solipsistic, insular UK of the 1960s, when working people were grateful to have a job and foreigners and women knew their place. It was a horrible environment in which to be growing up and today’s children deserve better.
What is to be done? There are no answers to that at the moment because the nature and timing of the UK exit has yet to be set out. It is another safe bet that the EU will set punitive terms for that exit in order to discourage any other member states from following suit. The Leavites seem to think they will be able to negotiate a soft landing: they are seriously wrong. Once the UK files for an Article 50 exit, the other EU states will want us out in the cold as completely as possible and as quickly as possible. All we can do in the interim is to hold our idiot politicians to account at any and every opportunity, to reassure friends and colleagues elsewhere in the world that Farage, Gove and Johnson do not speak for all of us, and to shout long and loud when any environmental protection is chipped away. As the Referendum polls closed, while the Leave campaign thought they might have lost, obnoxious millionaire gobshite Nigel Farage said to camera “We may have lost the battle, but the war goes on”. Yes, it does.