Well I bloody never.
Though I’ve never for a split second doubted that leaving the European Union was the morally right thing to do, I never in my wildest dreams thought that the British public – who said no to Scottish independence, no to voting reform, and no to any recent leader who showed the slightest reforming zeal – would actually vote to leave.
Though the term ‘Britishness’ was thrown about meaninglessly by both sides during the campaign, our decision on Thursday was ironically, and rather beautifully un-British. We are not Greece, or Denmark, or anything like the other rebellious kids at the back of the European school bus. We tolerate, we ‘make do and mend’. Yes we moan, but we never allow that to materialise into anything much beyond tutting. And in spite of all that, our politeness and our absurdly good manners, we went out on Thursday and stuck 17 million fingers up to the European elite. And I for one have never been so proud.
But to be proud doesn’t mean you can’t be frightened (but note that being frightened does not necessarily make you remorseful). No Leave campaigner can dress up the depreciation of the pound as anything but a red hot mess. Though some economists argue that the occasional devaluation of a currency is no bad thing, it was hardly the homecoming party the Brexiteers wanted.
But equally, the events of Friday were far from the economic catastrophe prophecised by the remain campaign. If this was our doomsday, it was a very British one: massively underwhelming and over by tea time.
The FTSE 100 finished the day 2.4% higher than it had done the week before. Barack Obama quickly backtracked on his ‘back of the queue’ comment (which was never all that threatening in the first place: I mean we invented the queue), and Australia, Canada, New Zealand and China all publicly made known their desire to start bi-lateral trade talks immediately. So if this is what Armageddon is really like, I’m never paying to see a disaster movie again.
I’m not going to claim we’re out of the woods yet; there’s a long way to go till the fruits of independence are laid bare. For starters, we’re certainly not going to be spending that phantom £350million anytime soon (if it even proves to exist). But seeing people write off a historic opportunity on the basis of one day’s events is absolutely crackers.
Who would be leading the free world today if the Pilgrims had decided against the Atlantic, because the sea looked a bit choppy? Where would South Africa be now if Mandela had conceded defeat to ANP, because one morning he didn’t fancy prison food? How many needless deaths would there have been in the United States if they hadn’t put the constitution aside and introduced gun laws? (Hang on a minute…) But petty jokes aside, I have absolute faith that in 20 years time we will be patting ourselves on the back – so long as we get there first.
At the other end of the ludicrously simplified scale of analogies, you could see our exit from the European Union as a marital separation – bear with me. Imagine your friend, Britney, had been at the end of her tether with her husband for 20 of the 43 years they’d spent together. This bloke (Eugene?) was completely resilient to change, never listened, and stopped her seeing friends outside of his circle – not to mention the fact he didn’t let her buy bananas in bunches of more than 3. Would any of you seriously tell Britney that she shouldn’t get a divorce, because the resulting year of solicitor meetings, contracts and judicial hearings would be a bit on the stressful side? Would it be really fair to expect her to stay with someone who made her that unhappy for the indefinite future, just because in the short term the fees were going to cost her a few bob? (And if you answered yes, your either a liar or a seriously crap friend).
The point is, and I’m sorry to sound like a fortune cookie, nothing that’s worth having comes easily, or simply. Charges of uncertainty and ‘leaps in the dark’ are not to be feared. You wouldn’t deny Britney a divorce because she couldn’t give you the exact height, eye colour & shoe size of the future partner she was yet to meet. So nor should we vilify the politicians who advocated Brexit for being unable to map out every single detail, 72 hours after the result. We might not know exactly what a post EU Britain will look like, but at least we’re going in the right direction.
No matter what economic perils await us in the coming weeks and months, they are incomparable to the self inflicted ones we would have experienced had we remained shackled to the EU. Many young people, the self-titled ‘48 percent’ (which sounds a bit like a gang or a X-factor boy band if you ask me), have bought into the fanciful version of the EU the establishment recklessly miss-sold them. They were promised a land of limitless employment prospects, unchecked free movement, kittens and bunny rabbits for all. Sure, if the European Union I’ve seen written about on Facebook this week was anything like the one that actually existed, I’d have probably voted to remain. But it isn’t.
For all the last ditch ‘votin, ravin, roamin’ rubbish, the young have still been the biggest casualty of the European project. A person under the age of 25 in Greece has almost the same chance of contracting herpes as they do of getting a job. Perhaps ‘votin, ravin, job searchin’ would have been a more accurate (but marginally less catchy) campaign slogan. In short: though it might well be sunnier in mainland Europe, the grass certainly isn’t greener.
It would be naive of me to take a balance sheet approach to this, and to measure this period of ‘uncertainty’ by economics alone. The constitutional questions surrounding the future of the United Kingdom, and a united Ireland, are more than alarming; as are the geographical and generational divides that have erupted between North and South, and the old and young. But let me just say that none of these issues can be solved by a second referendum. If one electoral test has seen people denounce the very generation that secured their right to vote, calls for an upper-age voting limit (the Guardian really out Guardian-ed itself with that one), a new found support for Scottish independence and of all things Irish Nationalism, and worst of all – whether related or not – the death of an elected representative, I dread to think what a second could do. You can object to the result on principle until the cows come home. But it’s outcome is still legitimate and, as all votes should be in any functioning democracy, infallible.
In 50 years time, when the term ‘Europe’ refers only to a continent once again, our children and grandchildren are going to study this god awful experiment with the same sense of bemusement we get when studying Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, the British Empire, and all the other artificial state constructs that seem destined to fail in hindsight. I don’t want to echo the tone of this horrific campaign & add to the alarming number of references there have been to Hitler, but history shows that uniting European countries with such vastly different systems and cultures simply does not work. And so I have no doubt that our leaving will precede Frexit, Byegium, Italeave, Outstria and Departugal, and the eventual collapse of the European Union.