Fallout Zone: Ogden on the Aftermath of Brexit


That Britain leaving the European Union would produce bad consequences was obvious to just about everyone, but the disastrous forecast for the future was mostly limited to British economics and international relations, as well as the implications for the EU to a more limited degree. The true impact of Brexit, however, was not anticipated by anyone.

That Scotland would threaten to leave the Union was predicted, as was an immediate fall in the value of the pound, but nobody expected the divisive confusion that now grips the country. The Leave campaign did not even expect to win (indeed, one anonymous Leave insider admitted as much to Sky News), but had instead hoped for a narrow Remain majority to be victorious while Brexit supporters would have turned out in enough numbers to have their views taken seriously in Parliament. Likewise, most British voters were so convinced that Remain would win that they did not even vote at all; the subsequent shocking Leave victory has triggered widespread demand for a second referendum, which has been met with outrage by the victorious Brexiteers.

The questions and arguments over what is to happen next, however, is arguably putting Britain under its greatest strain since the Second World War.

Disenchanted Brexit voters have long abhorred government practices of holding multiple referendums until the ‘right’ answer is hit. It will (not unreasonably) be considered anti-democratic; the fact that the Remain campaign was weak and voters were complacent are not fair grounds for another referendum. Yet since most people in Britain have since decided that quitting the EU was a bigger mistake than the Somme, a democratic ruling that does not have the support of the majority is hardly democratic.

It must also not be forgotten that the referendum was officially nothing more than a survey, in no way legally binding despite the government’s promise to go with whatever result might emerge. Seeing the public backlash against Brexit, it is possible that the government might ignore the result entirely and not trigger Article 50 (which starts the official exit process of the EU). The move would be legal, but would send Leave voters into a frenzy; civil strife and riots are not outside possibilities if Parliament has the gall to do it.

Furthermore, a legal firm in London has claimed that any attempt to trigger Article 50 without a parliamentary vote would be unconstitutional. With the Remain campaign finally waking up and making noise and many Leave voters having publicly changed their minds since the referendum, Brexit would not likely win a parliamentary vote, but here we enter the murky waters of what is (and is not) constitutional, since Britain has no written constitution.

The wider implications for the EU are just as serious. Exit campaigns in France, the Netherlands and Austria have treated Brexit as their own victory, and should they gain momentum the future of the Union could be at stake. Internal division within the EU is also dangerous for Brussels; Paris advocates a punitive approach towards Britain (also serving as a deterrent to other nations), while Berlin is calling for a more moderate approach. No course of action has yet been decided on, and nor will it be until Article 50 is triggered.

Article 50 itself can only be activated by the British Prime Minister, and though David Cameron has stepped down his successor will not take office until October. It also remains unclear as to who Cameron’s replacement will be, since popular Leave campaigner Boris Johnson shocked the nation by stating he does not intend to run for office. The other contenders enjoy mixed ratings amongst the public.

Brexit has been especially galling for Georgia. The Union that Tbilisi has long sought to join now appears to be in peril; others have questioned the wisdom of joining a political body that established and prosperous nations are seeking to leave.

Yet Brexit is good news for Russia, which will be delighted to see its chief rival divided and bickering amongst itself; most notably, Poland and the Baltic states have called for unity in the face of inter-EU conflict.

What will happen next in both Britain and the EU is unknown and next to impossible to predict; the only certainty is chaos.

Tim Ogden

Photo: LEON NEAL, AFP/Getty Images

07 July 2016 20:12