The EU referendum result

Fri 24 June 2016

photo credit: Start button via photopin (license)

It's midnight on one of the shortest nights of the year and I'm ambling down a leafy road. There's some light summer rain and I'm pleasantly inebriated after a few pints at Glasgow's real ale festival. When I arrive home I check my phone and see that Leave were doing well in the first results. Too soon to worry about it, so I sleep.

51.9% to Leave. I am not pleased in the morning. I'm trying to see a positive here, but all I find are imponderables and uncertainty. The only clarity currently available from Brexit is that any definite prediction is a certain mark of foolishness. There's no plan. There's no precedent.

The referendum result is advisory and has no legal force. Nevertheless the politicians cannot ignore it. A good majority of UK MPs want to remain in the EU but they will now be tasked with managing the leaving process which legally starts when Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is invoked. Article 50 is a red button and pressing it makes Brexit real.

But politicians, even pro-Brexit ones including Boris Johnson, do not want it pressed yet. It seems likely that it will be David Cameron's successor who will be tasked with doing it. But why wait? Is it to negotiate? From what I've read, the EU leaders are saying "press that button now" and are unlikely to talk until that's done. Could it be that our governing politicians are hoping the UK might not leave the EU or is it just that none of them knows quite what to do.

Surely the next PM will have to press the button? Could she or he go against the expressed will of 51.9%* of the people that voted? Probably not. But what if the next few months sees Project Fear become Project Fact?

Perhaps companies will hold back on investment, which is already in short supply. Perhaps the weak Pound will make imports expensive and people will start to feel a bit poorer; those going abroad on their summer holiday will notice their spending money is squeezed. This may be partly offset if exports are more attractively priced abroad due to the weak Pound, but if investment is low then UK supply may be unable rise to meet this demand. In short, it's hard to see how we'll avoid an economic downturn or a recession in coming months.

None of this is certain but arguing why these economic woes will not befall us requires a large dollop of hope. So in a few months perhaps the populous will feel leaving the EU isn't such a good idea, and as a result our next PM will seek a political get-out, such as putting it to a vote by MPs, or even another referendum, perhaps one on invoking article 50.

This is all possible and plausible, but I've absolutely no way of assessing how likely it is and I can imagine a spectrum of far less palatable outcomes. The optimist in me, though much cowed by the outcomes of politics in recent years, is grappling with the hope that such a shock can bring about meaningful and positive change, not just for the UK but for the rest of Europe. But if the populous and the politicians continue on their current course I see a break-up of the UK and the EU as distinct possibilities with potentially very serious and unpleasant consequences.

*For numerologists out there, that's 37.5% of those who could vote and is close to the percentage that voted Yes in Scotland in 2014, and 38% is also the percentage of Leave votes cast in Scotland. Happy conspiring!