Like many, I’ve struggled to come to terms with the result of Thursday’s vote.
So, here are some thoughts as I and many others try and make sense of the situation:
1. No one knows how to react, because almost no one saw this coming. Almost all the polls predicted a Remain win. All the betting companies predicted a Remain win. Every party – including UKIP – predicted a Remain win. The ramifications aren’t yet clear, but they are of course huge, and fairly terrifying.
2. This was a vote both against the ‘establishment’, and against immigration. It was a protest vote, and one with huge consequences, a ‘working class revolt’. Many who backed Brexit are said to already be regretting their decision – after doing it to feel some semblance power in a politics that feels distant, alienating and elite-driven.
3. There is a gaping generational divide that was made clear on Thursday. The Remain side probably would have won had Cameron agreed to letting 16 and 17 year olds vote. He rejected it to his own demise. And 75% of 18-24 year olds say they backed staying in the EU, compared to just 39% of over 65s.
The sad fact is this: the baby boomers took the Millennials out of Europe – despite the latter being the main ones to face the consequences. However, far fewer 18-24 year olds actually voted than older people – meaning we partly have ourselves to blame. The Remain side did themselves no favours (see the cringe-inducing ‘Votin’ push and the total lack of youth issues discussed in the referendum), but regardless: Britain’s generations are at war with each other.
4. The Greens should back re-joining the EU at the earliest opportunity. The Liberal Democrats have already pledged this. Many feel like the referendum result was won on the back of an extremely poor debate – and one arguably based on false pledges on the Leave side – both on cutting immigration and investing in the National Health Service (Leave claimed Brexit would put £350m per week into the NHS). Those pledges have already been back-tracked upon.
Nearly three million people – almost a tenth of the number who voted – have signed a petition calling for a re-run of the referendum. So re-joining the EU would be a vote winner for the Greens. With a leadership election currently going on, this will no doubt be raised.
5. British politics is now in turmoil, if it wasn’t before. David Cameron has resigned and we are facing a Conservative leadership contest – one which will be led by the pro-Brexit, right-wing of the party. The next two years will be full of tortuous negotiations. And the Labour Party are facing their own leadership election, with around half of the Shadow Cabinet expected to resign this weekend over the left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn alleged lukewarm support for the EU and lack of campaigning during the referendum. Many believe it was Corbyn who lost the referendum – as someone perceived to be a long-term Eurosceptic. He is now facing a very serious leadership challenge.
So while Britain is locked in a constitutional crisis – not least given the fact that Scotland, Northern Ireland and London all voted to remain in the EU – the main parties face their own internal crises, and struggle to come to terms with the ramifications for Britain’s place in the world, and their own visions for the future.
6. Another Union is breaking apart: the UK. Scotland and Northern Ireland are drifting away. Both voted strongly – by around two thirds to one – to stay in the EU. The UK is divided, and it appears we face (again) the prospect of the breakup of these nations. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, has already pledged a second independence referendum – and support is likely to be higher this time, with polls already showing a high likelihood of a pro-independence victory (although polls are arguably no longer to be trusted after Thursday’s vote… ).
Either way, the consequences of Thursday’s vote are immense when it comes to the future constitutional state of the UK as a unit. And while Irish unification appears off the cards for the time being in NI, passions are rising high there too.
7. English (and Welsh) politics is moving to the right. The Brexit win has vindicated the hard-right UKIP – who are not going anywhere, contrary to some expectations. With the Conservatives also moving to the right, the ‘centre ground’ has shifted. It is highly likely that many of the hard-won rights won through the EU will be torn apart – including many elements of the social chapter and key environmental protections and business regulations.
With Labour in a state of crisis (the Foreign Secretary was sacked on Saturday morning for planning to oust Corbyn), we are in a poor place to fight the attacks on workers’ rights and environmental protections. It is left to the Greens, who must get back on our feet and redouble our efforts as soon as possible.
Thursday’s vote has made me realise something depressing: England is actually rapidly becoming a right-wing nation. This was a right-wing populist vote, led by reactionary forces and which will benefit and strengthen reactionary forces. How should the Greens respond?
8. With Labour in turmoil, it is left to the Greens to begin the fight-back to the rightward shift that we will now likely see. And we must work with the social movements like Another Europe Is Possible that campaigned for a Remain vote to do this.
9. The left is in a state of mourning. It will take some time to rebuild and recover. This is a defeat that is felt deeply and has knocked the left for potentially years to come. But we have to start trying to come back now. And to get some ideological clarity in a deeply confusing post-Brexit context.
10. We are still European. It’s vital the Green movement across Europe continues to keep its arms open to the UK. We have to keep working together cross-borders.
Of course, it will be much harder without the EU, but we have to try – the crises we face are international. But as a progressive movement, we must deal with them internationally, despite this huge setback: we are still stronger together. To FYEG and the European Green Party, we must remain close.
For now, we are lost and saddened. But we will do all we can to ensure the solidarity we had through the EU isn’t completely lost. We have to.
Josiah Mortimer is a writer and Green Party member based in London. Follow him on Twitter.
Cover image by Konstantin Tilberg, can be found here.
Ballot image by Mick Baker, can be found here.