It’s official: Great Britain has voted to leave the EU. This post was written before the final results.
Now that it seems clear that Leave will win the referendum, David Dimbleby, the MC of the BBC’s results coverage, has shifted his focus to party politics. If it seems like he’s smack-talking pols from all over the political spectrum, that’s because he is. The mainstream parties have so much egg on their faces that they might all have to find new faces to lead them very, very soon.
In the ruling Conservative Party, Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to step down as leader—he didn’t have to call the referendum, and since the campaign he led failed, and exiting the European Union will likely plunge the country into crisis, no one seems to think he can stay in the job. In Britain’s parliamentary system, whoever is leader of the majority party will become the prime minister, so it’s a big deal. Cameron said before last May’s election that he would stand down at some point during this term—so the jockeying has been going on for many months. Until about six hours ago, Home Secretary Theresa May seemed the most likely to win the job, but since she was in the Remain camp, her star has dimmed. Among the Leave camp, the likeliest winners are David Davis (a longtime Euroskeptic but at 67 a little old for the job) and Boris Johnson, the clever but buffoonish former London mayor.
Those people Dimbleby is making stutter belong to the Labour Party. The party was pro-Remain, but its campaign strategy clearly failed. Since many of the people who voted Leave are “natural” Labour voters, a Leave result will be seen as a total failure for Jeremy Corbyn’s team. The main reasons for voting Leave are either xenophobia or anger at the political class—or perhaps a mixture of both—but none of the Labour grandees talking to Dimbleby seems to have any ideas at all for how these disenchanted Labour voters might be brought back into the fold. (I’m not even going to mention the Liberal Democrats; they’re totally irrelevant right now.)
And UKIP, Nigel Farage’s nationalist party, will surely be celebrating long and loudly. But if Britain really does withdraw from the European Union, their work is done. I’m reminded of Evan Wolfson, the architect of America’s marriage-equality movement. When the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land a year ago, Wolfson’s Freedom to Marry dissolved. What on earth does UKIP still have to offer the British public once Britain exits the EU?
Right now there are all kinds of rumors and whispers about announcements and special sessions of Parliament going around. It feels too early to speculate about what will happen, but big changes are definitely coming soon.