We all have regrets. Some, like kissing inappropriate people in your twenties, you can live with, but others run deeper and threaten to whisper “what ifs” in your ear for the rest of your life.
I suspect as David Cameron stepped out in front of Number 10 this morning he could feel the regrets rising. Regrets that he played with our EU membership to appease his party rebels. Regrets that he authorised an EU referendum as leverage to negotiate – negotiations that are now worth nothing. Regrets that he didn’t fight hard enough against a campaign that was built around myths, intolerance and hate.
Above all, he’ll regret going down in history as the prime minister responsible for severing our ties with our European neighbours; potentially sparking the break-up of the UK; and possibly undermining years of peace negotiations in Northern Ireland. I doubt that’s how he expected his political career to pan out.
I’ve read reports of other regrets too. People who got swept up in a toxic campaign masquerading as a symbol of anti-establishment rebellion are now saying they didn’t think it would actually happen, as they wake up to reports of market meltdown, tumbling oil prices and politicians reneging on promises.
Someone completely absent of regrets is Nigel Farage, as he revels in congratulatory tweets from Europe’s far right. This is a man who is not even elected as an MP in Westminster but has positioned himself as the poster boy for Brexit, demanding a special national independence holiday, backed by his smarmy band of followers.
Nor will Boris Johnson be feeling regretful. In it for himself, he spotted the political capital to be gained from this fight and has been in rehearsal mode ever since for his turn at number 10. And we’ve all payed for this power grab.
So when I woke up to news that we’d voted to leave, I couldn’t help but feel let down by all the aforementioned. The farmers who depend on EU subsidies have been let down by these people. Our European friends, neighbours and colleagues who have made homes and started families in Britain have been let down by these people, as they’ve been rebranded unwelcome immigrants. The Brits living and working on the continent, now uncertain of their status, have been let down by these people. The many, many people whose jobs are dependent on EU funding or links have been let down by these people.
I’ve always tired of anti-establishment debates, finding them to be a little sixth-form. But our Westminster government has lived up to every stereotype about the privileged and elite classes. They’ve gambled with our country’s future creating a national debating chamber that pitted two heavyweight Etonian adversaries against each other, with the right-wing media serving as an echo chamber. It was the political system at its very worst.
As the day unravelled, the prognosis for our future refused to brighten up. At worst I hoped for some reassurances, some platitudes that things would be fine and at best I thought we’d have a plan about what happened next. We’ve had neither.
Instead we’ve seen Sterling’s value tumble, oil prices plummet and Britain slipping to 6th wealthiest nation. We’ve been told by Europe that we’re out for good and we’ve been asked to be quick about it. Talk about cutting your nose off to spite your face.
I could accept this decision more readily if I had better understanding of what it’s actually achieved, or if those who campaigned for Brexit were championing a just cause or some fight against adversity. Maybe in their eyes they were but I don’t see that. I see a bunch of false promises now in tatters. I see an uncertain future. I see a selfish decision that has marked us out to the rest of Europe and the world as insular and intolerant. Britain may indeed survive without the EU but an EU without Britain will certainly be weakened, and a world with a weak Europe is a worrying prospect, particular with leaders like Putin around, rubbing their hands with glee. If the EU is a house of cards, then Britain’s decision has yanked out that critical piece in the structure.
It’s an outcome that’s even harder to swallow for the 62% of us who voted Remain in Scotland. Some will take hope in the fact that a second independence referendum is likely but a lot will need to be worked out with regards to how and if we can become a member state of the EU. Before us Scots take the moral high ground, we could find ourselves caught between a rock and a hard place, faced with the choice of crippling ourselves financially to become a small member state of the EU or a non-EU country attached to a UK that is increasingly pulling in the opposite direction. At the moment I’d plump for the former, but it’s a decision I’d have preferred not to have to make at all.