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Europe: The Final Countdown

Brexit Results: What It All Means

How the UK went to bed in one world and woke up in another.

by Gavin Haynes
Jun 24 2016, 1:20pm

Supporters of the Stronger In campaign react after hearing results in the EU referendum at London's Royal Festival Hall. Picture by Rob Stothard / PA Wire

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

When the UK went to bed, with Nigel Farage delivering his "looks like Remain has nudged it" soundbite, they were doubtlessly wondering what the months of fuss and bluster were all about. No change then. Back to sleep everybody. "Democracy a big winner." "We've all learned a great deal." And other stock platitudes.

There'd long been rumors of City traders commissioning hugely expensive private polls so when the Pound began to soar after polls closed, it seemed like maybe they knew something we didn't—Remain looked comfortably in command.

But as we've seen so often before, that's the magic of running an actual referendum rather just sucking on a few opinion polls. The pollsters don't reach everyone. And the never-voteds were exactly the people they needed to touch base with.

So it proved. Turnout was at 72 percent—a stoinking percentage that lends an undeniable legitimacy to the poll. There had been a kind of curve predicted at the start of the night: if turnout was quite-good it meant the not-bothereds had come to the polls and Remain would win. If the turnout was hugely heavy, then that meant the extremely-alienateds were finally going to polling stations.

They were. By eleven Farage had withdrawn his "concession" remarks. In a great Farage-ism, he "un-conceded." But Boris Johnson had been snapped on the tube with his rucksack, talking to a punter, mournfully confessing he'd probably lost. So...?

The TV filled briefly with the soft chitter of buoyant Remain types. Nicky Morgan confirmed to David Dimbleby that "her sources" suggested they'd shaded it. Gibraltar, the first to declare, registered about 95 percent Remain, making the Jeremy Vine graphics briefly zag like a Zimbabwean election.

Soon enough, though, Farage's words took on shades of Al Gore's un-concession speech in 2000.

Leave was a far off distant voice in London. And Scotland, too. But something was stirring. When Remain only very narrowly took Newcastle, a city they could have expected to romp home with, a clammy pallor started to descend on the formerly super-chillum government ministers who were in the studio to chat about the In campaign.

Just after 5 AM, political history's eternal receptionist, David Dimbleby, announced the BBC was calling it for Leave.

Even he looked nervous. The Pound dropped to levels not seen since 1985. The screens took on shades of the "BBC" bits in 28 Days Later . Farage, in the middle of the throng at a Leavers party, gave a short victory speech this time, talking about "triumph for ordinary people." Back in the BBC studio, Remain's Emily Thornberry began to look like her kidneys had stopped working.

What happens from hereon in is going to be years of endless wrangles. The shortest answer is a) not much for a while, b) that Cameron will be gone by Christmas, c) Scotland and Northern Ireland are going to be at the disintegrating heart of a disintegrating Union. The Scots can probably be kept onboard for a decade, but for how much longer than that? With an in-tray that difficult, Cameron's probably quite glad he can EasyJet it to Sardinia for a final time.

UPDATE: David Cameron says he will resign by October.

But really, the solipsism of any national debate is only half the story. The wider world now ingests the meaning of this and coughs it back at us in ways no one can yet fathom. Much like the Middle East later did the events of 2011's Tahir Square revolution.

The European Union now has to dig deeper than it ever has—certainly over the migration and Eurozone crises—to stop the entire project from unravelling in the next few years until it's just a rump of Germany and some semi-parasitic Eastern European tagalongs. Already, Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders has been out saying that next the eternally Eurosceptic Dutch deserve their turn. The Danes will almost certainly follow suit, but the A-Bomb will be the fact—and just try and get your head around this if you can—that the French are already more Eurosceptic than the Brits. Already more Eurosceptic than the Brits. Already more Eurosceptic than the Brits.

There is a French presidential election next year. Candidates will be falling over themselves to piss on the European Project. And for Britain's part, there is already talk of delaying the triggering of Article 50—the Lisbon Treaty clause that will formally commence the two-year process that ends with British "freedom," until after that date to avoid becoming a casualty of a "punish the UK" narrative within that election. Certainly, the EU will try and drive as hard as they can (given that in trade terms as a net-importer they still need us more than we need them). They'll want to make an example. They will want life outside the EU to look like a freezing awful wasteland. But at the same time trade is always going to be king, and trade is almost always rational—they still need us to buy all their stuff, and we theirs.

Buried within that historic horrorshow, though, lies real opportunity. The foment that has been raging across the continent—from the rise of genuinely fascist uglies like Front National in France, to the UK's own UKIP tendency, to Italian populists like Five Star—can be neutralized if the EU radically changes its model and make-up. Perhaps an older, Common Market model is still buried in there somewhere. Maybe that will, in one stroke of a pen, effectively shoot the fox of the likes of Le Pen. Or perhaps we're all doomed.

Back in Britain masses have risen up. Seldom in our history—not even at the 1945 election—has there been a point where the results have felt so tied to class.

This is a repudiation not only of Britain's all pro-Remain political establishment, it is a repudiation of globalization, and a world which the working types who struck out yesterday have seen changing faster than they've felt able to deal with. Anger is everywhere—you could see this is a perverse continuation on the continuum of the Corbyn revolution. No one develops an appetite for huge social upheaval "on a laugh," and it would be lamentable if the smooth metropolitan types simply took this as evidence of Britain's failing education system.

The biggest question of all: Can globalization even be repudiated? Or is that like repudiating the weather? That's the question that has been at the heard of western democratic politics since the end of the Cold War. It's the question America is struggling with in the form of Donald Trump. Last night, the British people answered "We don't know but we're sure gonna try..."

Follow Gavin Haynes on Twitter.

To see all our articles about the EU Referendum, check out Europe: The Final Countdown.

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