When I went to bed last night, I felt confident that I’d wake up this morning to news that we’d decided – possibly even by a decent majority – to remain in the European Union. The reality, however, is very different.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, 52% of voters in yesterday’s referendum voted to leave the EU. And so begins the long and complex process of disentangling ourselves from the international network of like-minded countries that has been our home for the last four decades.
My first instinct is to find someone to blame. I could blame the Prime Minster for calling the referendum in the first place. I could blame Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage for painting an insincere and unrealistic picture of what a post-EU Britain would look like. I could blame Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for such a lacklustre campaign.
But that’s not going to help.
I could blame the people who voted to leave. I could blame them for their lack of vision and foresight. I could blame them for being duped by the hyperbole of anti-EU campaigners. I could blame them for ignoring the uncertainty that their vote would unleash. I could blame them for taking out their own dissatisfaction on my future and that of my family.
But that’s not going to help, either. And, to be honest, it’s really not their fault.
What gets me now, though, is the uncertainty. It’s pretty clear that nothing’s going to happen straight away. It looks like we’re going to be subjected to a Conservative leadership battle first. (In fact, from the number of Tories clamouring to get in front of a TV camera this morning, I’d say it’s already well under way.) We may well even have a Labour leadership challenge. And the Scots are no doubt going to be calling for a second referendum on their independence, too.
Then we’ve got the whole issue of actually leaving the EU. And it’s a whole lot more complex than just ringing Brussels and saying farewell. There are plans to make, laws to change and entire policy and funding structures to rebuild from the ground up.
There are also about 3 million people from other EU countries currently living and working in the UK. And if the one I’m married to is anything to go by, they’re feeling extremely insecure at the moment. The ‘Vote Leave’ campaign has not exactly been migrant-friendly, so we need desperately to reassure these people that they’re not about to be rounded up and deported. (And I’m hoping at this point that they’re not about to be rounded up and deported.)
And there are 27 other European Union member states whose populations are now staring at us in collective disbelief.
By voting to leave, we have put into jeopardy the entire European project. And while some may say that this is a good thing, for me it’s quite frankly little less than a catastrophe.
Right-wing politicians in the Netherlands and France have already called for referendums of their own. If the European Union is to survive, it needs to act quickly and decisively. And this means, much as it pains me to say it, that it needs to make Britain suffer. It needs to cut us off so brutally and so comprehensively that no other member state would even think about leaving. So no access to the single market, no freedom of movement, no funding for agriculture, scientific research or anything else.
Needless to say, this thought does not fill me with joy.
But our task now is to accept – as graciously as possible – where we are and to start to rebuild our future.
We need to put the anger and recriminations of the referendum campaign behind us. We need to show those who would have us hide behind our borders that there is another way. We need to work together to create a fair, just and democratic country that can thrive in this brave new world that we have brought upon ourselves.
It’s going to be a long, hard struggle.
But I can’t quite bring myself to think about it yet. Because I feel numb. I feel angry. And I feel afraid.