A PRIME Minister resigns, a motion of no confidence in the Leader of the Opposition, the explicit threat of a Scottish independence referendum and an economy in a frenzy. Just the headline events after Britain defied the Government and opted to leave the European Union, the immediate fallout was, unquestionably, the most momentous in domestic politics since Margaret Thatcher’s downfall.
Even though David Cameron’s position was untenable after his entire referendum strategy backfired, the dignified manner of his resignation statement rightly earned the respect of friends and foes alike. And so it should. Leaving aside policy differences, not least whether Mr Cameron did enough for Yorkshire, the Tory leader did his utmost to clear up the mess bequeathed by the last Labour government. Until this point, the country’s finances were in better shape than in 2010.
Yet the Brexit vote – and the extent to which the Tory leader misread the public’s mood – will be Mr Cameron’s legacy. Even a narrow Remain win would have been terminal to the Prime Minister’s authority as Yorkshire now comes to terms with a county, country and continent divided like never before.
First Yorkshire. Even though levels of Euroscepticism are deeper here than elsewhere, it is significant that the so-called ‘golden triangle’ of Leeds, Harrogate and York endorsed Mr Cameron. Given how financial services are intrinsic to the success of this area, this divergence of opinion will not make it any easier to break this region’s devolution deadlock – just one of many issues put on hold because of the referendum.
Next Britain. Less than two years after the question of Scottish independence was supposedly settled for a generation, a second referendum looks on the cards after voters north of the border backed the EU in overwhelming numbers. If SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon gets her own way, how, for example, is the border controlled between a pro-EU Scotland and a liberated England? This conundrum is, potentially, just one of many unintended consequences from a decision which could also have far-reaching consequences for Northern Ireland after its citizens backed the status quo – the security and stability of the peace process is paramount.
And then there’s Europe. Not only is the euro still in peril because countries like Greece and Italy are still coming to terms with the aftermath of the 2007-08 financial crisis, but the European Union is in denial about the level of public mistrust both here and on the Continent. Despite its protestations to the contrary, Britain’s decision is a direct challenge to the authority of Brussels and it remains to be seen whether other countries follow the UK’s lead – or whether the EU is even capable of reform. On the latter, the initial ‘business as usual’ response of Jean-Claude Juncker appeared to vindicate Thursday’s vote.
What next? Though this is no time for haste, a point that Brexit’s leading campaigner Boris Johnson made in a sober victory speech (and early pitch for the Tory leadership), the country has a right to expect far more clarity on the likely timetable for Brexit.
Even though matters will be in flux until Mr Cameron’s successor is elected, the Government needs to demonstrate to the EU that there will not be a repeat of Mr Cameron’s timid negotiating skills earlier this year.
And then there is the future of the Conservative and Labour parties – both have been shown to be hopelessly out-of-touch with blue collar voters whose genuine concerns on issues like housing, migration and jobs were ignored for too long.
In this regard, a lacklustre Jeremy Corbyn has to accept his share of responsibility – the collapse of the Labour vote tipped the outcome and the Opposition need to start afresh, and ideally under one of its many talented Yorkshire MPs.
As for the Tories, the three obvious frontrunners – the aforementioned Mr Johnson, Michael Gove and Theresa May – all represent seats in London and the Home Counties. Although their respective backgrounds will appeal to Tory activists who will have the final say, leaders need broad appeal – and a commitment to the One Nation agenda that Mr Cameron was attempting to implement.
This is before the small matter of whether the victor will have to call a general election and attempt to secure their own mandate. At this moment in time, it is the least of the country’s worries and the Archbishop of York’s call for Britain to show “humility” is sage advice – 48 per cent of people did not vote for Brexit. Only time will tell whether the public’s verdict, by a desperately narrow margin, is a cool and calculated move that brings about a new era of enterprise for the long-term – or a short-term financial calamity like no other. Far from the Brexit decision being the beginning of the end, this week’s poll is simply the end of the beginning.