When I retired last night, the Leave had pulled out to a half million vote lead. I thought this would be cancelled out by the London vote, but this did not come to pass. Britain has voted to leave the European Union.
Naturally this dramatic state of affairs provokes as many questions as answers. At this moment, I would like to pose these seven:
1. Who will succeed David Cameron?
It is remarkable that Cameron will now leave office just over a year after winning a majority government against all odds. But Cameron staked his premiership over Brexit and lost.
One would think that the Tories would select a prominent figure from the Leave campaign such as former London Mayor Boris Johnson or Michael Gove as Cameron’s successor. But the Tories are far from unified on this question. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has been groomed to be Cameron’s successor and he was staunchly pro-Remain. The pace with which Brexit proceeds will depend a great deal on whom the Tories see fit to send to 10 Downing Street.
2. Will this force early elections?
The next British general election is scheduled to be held on May 7, 2020. But given the magnitude of last night’s vote, I cannot imagine a scenario under which Britons vote for a new government on that date. In which case, there is no guarantee the Tories will be re-elected. But Labour has its own problems.
3. Will Labour dump Jeremy Corbyn?
If there are early elections does Labour want to go to the polls with Jeremy Corbyn at the helm. At heart an anti-EU stalwart, Corbyn declared himself as part of the Remain camp but did not campaign with Cameron. Like the Tories, Labour is also deeply divided on Brexit. But given Corbyn’s unabashed socialism there are fears that Labour could not only do worse than under Ed Miliband in last year’s election, but even worse than Michael Foot in 1983 general election when Labour had a platform which was dubbed “the longest suicide note in history.”
Should Labour dump Corbyn who will succeed him? Sadiq Khan only just became Mayor of London, but I’m sure he would be asked. Would Andy Burnham (with whom I briefly worked when he was Tessa Jowell’s right hand) make a third bid to lead Labour? My money would be on Hilary Benn, the son of legendary Labour figure Tony Benn. Though it is worth noting that while the elder Benn was deeply anti-EU, the younger Benn is staunchly pro-Remain. That’s certainly one way to get out of his father’s large shadow. Another way would be to oust Corbyn.
4. Will Scotland have another referendum?
Donald Trump happened to be in Scotland opening during the vote. He was there to open a hotel and golf resort (I thought his kids were handling his business affairs). Trump called the vote “a great thing” praising UK voters for taking back their country.
The only problem is that the Scottish electorate voted to Remain by a 60-40 margin. Given their affinity for the EU, will this prompt yet another Scottish Referendum? We are less than two years removed from the last one and if a Leave vote doesn’t prompt a renewal of Scottish nationalism then nothing will. All of this reinforces my conviction that Labour will oust Corbyn in favor of Benn. Labour needs the Scottish vote to be a politically viable force and to do that they need a leader firmly in the Remain camp.
5. Will there be new troubles in Northern Ireland?
Northern Ireland was almost as vociferous in its support of the Remain campaign as Scotland with 56% voting in favor of staying in the EU. Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister and notable Sinn Fein figure, is calling for a referendum on a united Ireland. While a united Ireland has long been a dream for Northern Ireland’s Catholics, its Protestants which comprise the Democratic Unionists and the Ulster Unionists will want no part of it. I don’t know if it would result in a return of The Troubles of the 1970’s and 1980’s, but I can easily see an Orange Day Parade getting out of hand.
6. Will British Liberty Accompany British Sovereignty?
Let’s that David Cameron’s successor (be it Tory or Labour) does manage to negotiate Britain’s way out of the EU. Will it actually mean anything? Three months ago, I made this argument as to why a Leave vote could be meaningless:
Britain’s laws with regard to surveillance, maintenance of a DNA registry, issuing national ID cards, regulation of protest march and speech, be it on the steps of the town hall or on social media, are far more comprehensive than those of any other EU member. Voters in the UK might very well vote to leave the EU in three months time, but the CCTVs aren’t going anywhere. Nor is the risk of arrest for making an unauthorized speech or writing an improper tweet (especially if one wishes to speak or write about Muslims). The UK could very well regain its sovereignty from the EU. But what good is sovereignty without liberty?
I would add that living in Britain, EU or no EU, is meaningless if local town councils cannot put a stop to a pedophile ring of Muslim men raping white, underage British girls for fear of being called racist.
The Leave campaign is undoubtedly jubilant at the moment. But these six questions (and many others) will have to be answered when it comes to the viability a post-EU United Kingdom.