Nigel Farage this morning said that June 23 should go down as the country’s “independence day”. In fact, following the result of the referendum on membership of the European Union, yesterday will mark the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom, as Scotland and Northern Ireland both voted for Remain but were out-voted by Leavers in England and Wales.
Indeed, London, and Croydon, voted for Remain, with our borough voting 92,913 in support of continued membership of the EU and 78,221 wanting to leave, off a 69 per cent turn-out of voters.
But by the time Croydon’s vote was declared, the referendum result for the nation as a whole was already determined, with the BBC confirming at 6am that the Farage and Boris Johnson-led exit campaigners had accumulated enough votes to make it impossible, with just a few results yet to be declared, for Remain to win the vote overall.
Nationally, on a 72 per cent turnout, the BBC was reporting Leave at 52 per cent and Remain at 48 per cent, the Brexiteers having a majority of 1.1 million votes.
It is The City, when the markets open this morning, which will demonstrate where the real power lies in this country, though. The value of Sterling fell by 6 per cent in the early hours of the morning, following strong Leave results in Newcastle and Sunderland. It was a currency crash worse than on Black Wednesday in 1992 when Britain was crushed out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, when Norman Lamont was the Tory Chancellor and one of his junior advisors was David Cameron.
Having played a part in one meltdown of the markets 24 years ago, Cameron has now managed to preside over another, more significant City “re-adjustment”, one which some analysts were saying was likely to have a bigger impact on the British economy than the global economic crash of 2008.
For the EU Referendum was Cameron’s, and his loyal supporters including Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell, desperate bid for power, offered as a sop at last year’s General Election in an effort to quieten the far-right of the Conservative Party and see-off the election challenge of UKIP.
Cameron’s previous referendum, in Scotland, had almost ended the United Kingdom while undermining the Labour Party’s position in Scotland. His second referendum seems, at dawn this morning, certain to end the union that has lasted on the island of Britain since 1707. And it casts a very dark cloud of uncertainty over Cameron’s immediate future as leader of the Conservatives and Prime Minister, and for the future of the Tory Party.
The EU Referendum shows London at odds with the rest of the country. The largely Labour-voting capital voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, though there were five boroughs which voted Leave, including nearby Bexley and our neighbours in Sutton, where the EU-supporting Liberal Democrats who have controlled the council there for a quarter of a century must now be extremely concerned about their political futures.
In fact, London’s 60-40 vote for Remain was not as significant as it might have been. Whether it was the storms or the latest bout of chaos on the trains which made the turnout lower than in some other parts of the country, despite getting a majority of Londoners, Remain failed to get enough of them to make a difference against the rest of England and Wales’s Leavers. Click here for the full breakdown of how London voted.
Immediate concerns will see a fast-moving situation this morning, with the suggestion that the Bank of England may need to intervene to stabilise the currency markets – by 7am, the pound was at a 30-year low against the US dollar – and the London Stock Exchange closed to avoid panic trading. Parliament may need to be recalled (again), with a possible Saturday sitting.
“One thing we can be sure of now: George Osborne will never balance the UK’s books. And nor will anyone else for a long time to come,” was the view of economist Richard Murphy. “If you want a single explanation for Leave, it’s that the economics of austerity have failed.”
Britain’s position with multi-national industries will emerge more quickly, perhaps, than the Government may feel comfortable with. Tata Steel has already announced that, as result of the Brexit vote, all deals are off to save the 14,000 jobs in South Wales. How many workers at the Nissan car plant in Leave-voting Sunderland may lose their jobs when the Japanese car-maker loses its access to the European markets probably won’t be known for weeks, or months.
There’s one job, though, which could be decided very quickly. The Prime Minister’s.
Having provided the opportunity for Britain to turn its back on our European partners, and then led the argument to Remain, David Cameron’s position looks untenable, despite some calls for the lame-duck Prime Minister to stay on to oversee the Brexit procedure, a process of uncoupling after 40 years’ membership which could take at least two years.
But will he have the stomach for such a task?
8.30am UPDATE: The answer to that (not-quite rhetorical) question is “No”.
Cameron announced on the steps of No10 Downing Street that he would step down as Prime Minister, with his replacement needing to be in place by the time of the Tory Party conference in October and the exit process commenced then.
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