On Thursday I cast my vote early in the morning, then left to work confident that the UK would vote to Remain a member of the European Union. I was certain we’d do this with a vote share of 60-66%. That was until the Newcastle result came in and it became clear it was going to be a bad night for Remain.
The news has developed quickly and what follows are my thoughts on three key areas of the debate. There may be more to be said in future, about how ugly the campaign had become. Or that how we’ve created a polarised society where any major decision will thoroughly upset 50% of the population. Or that every promise made by the Leave campaign was rolled back and demonstrated to be completely false within a day, leaving a deep sense of betrayal for many.
I identify as a Geordie, British and European, not necessarily in that order. All of my international travel has been within Europe. I’ve worked for extended periods of time in other European countries. I’ve been a huge beneficiary of EU membership. I’ve lived in a region that has equally benefitted enormously from EU funding, with key infrastructure and tourist attractions developed.
I now feel as if part of that identity has been stripped from me. Even though I didn’t vote for it, or that we haven’t (yet) actually left the European Union. All because David Cameron added a manifesto commitment to appease his Euroskeptic back-benchers, never thinking it would have to be implemented. But then they won a majority. He will be known as the man who split two Unions unnecessarily.
I worry about the opportunities that I may have lost, the rights that could potentially be stripped away.
Cameron decided to fall on his sword in response to the result, announcing he will not invoke Article 50. Instead he’d resign, allowing the next Prime Minister to begin negotiation. So enter Prime Minister Boris Johnson? No doubt we’ll have a ‘snap’ General Election to try and increase the Tory working majority, but also to avoid the ‘unelected’ trap that Gordon Brown fell into. This election will be fought 100% over Europe, thus a strong message will be the key to electoral success.
The Conservative Party is left deeply divided, with its greatest asset removed. Whilst I’ll never forgive Cameron for the actions of his Governments, his contribution to the perception of a stable and competent Conservative Party has been an election winner. Talk of a potential Tory split aren’t far from the truth.
But closer to home, we’re also seeing attempts to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership contest last year by a huge majority, so attempts to remove him will understandably be perceived as a snub. However in his tenure the Labour Party lost seats in the Council Elections. He has failed to capitalise on open goals such as Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation, and been prone to own goals. He has been unable to stop the flow of support from Labour’s traditional heartlands to UKIP. His contribution to the European Union debate was lukewarm at best, which is to be expected from a man with a published history of opposition to the European Union, a known tendency to stick to his principles, and who could barely contain his smile in an interview following the Leave vote on Friday. Evidence has emerged of his office undermining the Labour Remain campaign.
It is clear that we cannot continue to support an electorally unsuccessful and widely divisive leader. But I’m also worried that these actions will cause a split of the Labour Party, despite it being supported by the majority of Labour members. But we must try and win the upcoming election, in order to win back the disenfranchised voters and ensure their voices are heard in Parliament.
Everything is up for grabs and in times of uncertainty, everyone decides to give their cause a pop. Already there are renewed calls for a second Scottish Independence Referendum. Sinn Fein are once again making noises about a United Ireland - as both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to Remain. Spain have declared an interest in Gibraltar. Wales and Cornwall are seeking assurances that they will continue to receive the funding that the European Union grants them, despite their residents overwhelmingly voting to Leave. There are calls for a second referendum, with over 3 million signatories at the time of writing.
Nigel Farage hoped this vote was the “first brick in the wall” to come loose. He may not be wrong; far-right leaders across Europe are celebrating the UK result and calling for their own referendums on European Union membership. The potential breakup of a political union that has provided stability and peace to a historically warring Continent is concerning, especially when some of the instigators are actual Nazis.
On the streets of the UK there are disturbing reports of racism towards minorities. Cries of “go home”, demands to “fit in or fuck off”. Children coming home from school in tears because of their family heritage. Not everyone who voted Leave is racist, but it is clear that the Vote Leave campaign made its primary argument on immigration. The language became incendiary. Nigel Farage used posters with alarming similarity to Nazi propaganda. He says that the referendum was won “without a bullet being fired” - but of course Jo Cox MP was assassinated outside of a library in her constituency by a man who later gave his name in court as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. It’s as if certain people have interpreted the vote as a permission to be openly racist.
The political landscape has completely changed and the only emotion I consistently feel is fear. Fear of what I will lose, and of what’s to come. We don’t seem to have a Government, or an Opposition. The far-right are on the rise, and when everything comes out in the wash, we may not even have a United Kingdom left.