A question with no answer

The good news is, I no longer have that sick feeling in my stomach. Now I’m just depressed.

In the same way that Tony Blair can’t go out for a nice meal in a restaurant without someone shouting “war criminal” at him, I hope that David Cameron suffers a similar fate. It’ll probably be “pig fucker” because “you messed up the economy, race relations, peace in Northern Ireland, the integrity of the Union, and the life chances of young people in a failed attempt to silence a minority of fruitbats in your parliamentary party” doesn’t trip off the tongue so easily, but whatever. Either way, the man deserves opprobrium at every opportunity for being probably the worst Prime Minister since 1782 for having presided over a combination of embittering austerity, tawdry triangulation, and a spectacularly miscalculated referendum.

Luckily for me, I have dual nationality, so a slim margin of voters can’t take away my right to live and work anywhere in the EEA, a right which is looking increasingly useful. I’m entitled to an Irish passport because I was born in Northern Ireland, but one of my motivations for getting my first one, back in 2004, was disgust at British involvement in Iraq. (We’ll hear more about that in a few days.) I didn’t want to be associated with that when I travelled the world, and when my British passport expired in 2009 I didn’t bother renewing it. To be honest, it didn’t make much practical difference: one EU passport is as good as another within Europe, and both passports are almost equally useful elsewhere.

I only got around to getting a new British passport in 2014, as my Irish one was expiring, and I thought I might as well use the same photo for both. By then, I had been living in London for a while, and I was beginning to feel positive about the UK again.

But then last week happened.

I’m used to elections going the other way to what I want. You could even say that I have a special insight into British politics, in that whatever I hope for, the opposite happens. I used this insight to place a bet on Leave at 5/1, and won £1000. It’s paid for a few rounds of drinks so far, but it hasn’t made me feel any better, especially since the impact on the Pound has cost me a lot more.

But in the same way that the best way to get decent public transport is to move to a city with decent public transport (these things taking decades to plan and build even when there’s will to do it), I can’t help thinking: maybe the best way to get a decent polity is to move to one. And if the UK consistently votes the opposite of what I believe, maybe I should just make my own Brexit and get the hell out. London is fine. Scotland is fine. But both are attached to England, a place that is increasingly foreign to me.

The worst thing about the referendum is that it’s not even a result. In a country with a more rigorous constitution, there would be conditions attached to a referendum. It might require a qualified majority or unanimity amongst its constituent parts to effect constitutional change. This was an advisory referendum that everyone who didn’t bother to check thought had some binding power. If it had been binding, there might be grounds for appeal, but you can’t even do that, because it’s just advisory. This is just a mess, because the government, in its hubris, didn’t consider the possibility that it might actually lose.

Whilst we knew what “remain” meant, leave was the magic mirror that reflected every desire. It’s not a mandate for EEA membership (with attendant freedom of movement). It’s not a mandate for breaking everything off and starting again with no agreements and no free movement. It’s not clear how a non-EU settlement should balance free trade of goods, free trade of services, and free trade of people. It’s not a mandate for anything more than unspecified change. No-one expected it to happen, and no-one planned for it. But, because it was a referendum, no-one is responsible: the Leave campaign has dissipated like mist in the morning, and all we have left are their lies and impossible promises.

I don’t really see any solution to this. No one can get what they want out of this result. Article 50 hasn’t been invoked because it’s the start of much worse: two years of negotiations with a fixed deadline, followed by many more years of negotiations to recreate trade agreements that already existed. There’s no option to just get this over with quickly. As far as I can see, there are three options:

1. Defer Article 50 indefinitely. This is what we have now. Things will recover a little over time. Investment will suffer from the uncertainty. It will be difficult to attract skilled labour from Europe.
2. Invoke Article 50. There will be more shock to the Pound. After a decade or two, the UK will have re-established enough trade agreements to be somewhere close to where it was last week. The effect on Scotland and Northern Ireland is unpredictable.
3. Resile from the referendum result. This would be good for the economy, but some of the quarter of the population that voted to leave will be unhappy. (I’m not convinced that there will be riots, however.)

Both 1 and 2 seem like good reasons to leave this country and go and work somewhere with a less risky currency and economy. I don’t want to waste the productive years of my life because of an ill-considered project that I don’t believe in. 3 would still leave the uncomfortable fact that this just doesn’t feel like a country I want to live in.

As I said, I don’t really see any solution to this. But I curse you, David Cameron, for getting us here. May your name live in infamy.