It was not supposed to be this way. The script was for “Remain” to win with a narrow majority; the high “Leave” vote merely giving the European Union a bloody nose as a wake-up call against further political integration. But five hours after the polls closed something went wrong.
The BBC called the referendum for “Leave.” We all watched open mouthed and agog as Nigel Farage gave a spluttering, incredulous victory speech. Reality blended with fantasy, the world spun off its axis, the pound went into a nosedive, the prime minister resigned, and all hell broke loose.
We then embarked on the five stages of grief. First, Denial: MPs urged parliament to simply reject the result – democracy, the argument went, can be overrated. Then, Anger: there were furious (but pointless) street protests by “Remain” voters in London, and some “Leavers” also angrily expressed buyers’ remorse. Then, Bargaining: A petition, calling to retrospectively require at least 60 percent of the vote for “Leave” to win, collected 4 million signatures. (Encouraged by this reasoning, angry England football fans were later to demand a rerun of the match against Iceland, with England this time given a two-goal head start.) Then, Depression: Some have compared the outpouring of despair in the U.K. to the death of Diana.
At the time of writing we have yet to see the first glimmers of Acceptance.
In the week that followed the vote, we heard all the political clichés – but then a week is a long time in politics. The Queen responded to the chaos by evoking the famous wartime morale boosting poster, urging politicians to keep “calm.” David Cameron smiled wryly with a nod to Enoch Powell as he uttered his last words before resigning – “All political lives end in failure.”
Having brought him down, Boris Johnson surely reflected on the maxim that “he who wields the dagger shall never wear the Crown.” Johnson was himself to be stabbed in the back later in the week by his campaign manager, Michael Gove. “Et tu, Michael! Then fall, Boris.”
The fear in the U.K. after the vote has been palpable. But much of this fear has been exacerbated by the febrile atmosphere that was allowed to grip the country before the vote, and the vacuum in leadership that followed.
The Brexit vote arose from a perfect storm within the incumbent Conservative party, between its Euro-friendly MPs and Eurosceptic members. Cameron included the promise of this referendum in the last Conservative Manifesto to stop conservatives from voting for UKIP and to finally lance this boil that had been festering in his party since Thatcher was deposed in 1990. He gambled, and lost – big time.
So who is next?
Conservative Theresa May has played her hand brilliantly. It was a surprise that such a well-known Eurosceptic backed the “Remain” campaign – but this was all positioning. May was completely anonymous during the campaign, but can now present herself as the unity candidate. May will not have it all her own way though – at the time of writing, Andrea Leadsom has emerged as her leading opponent.
The MPs’ top two candidates will go forward to the members to decide, and although May is well-known and regarded, Leadsom will play well with members due to her true blue, right-wing “Brexiteer” credentials. It is looking likely that Britain will have another female prime minister shortly.
For the official opposition Labour Party, it is all about survival – the crisis was described by deputy leader Tom Watson as “existential.” The historic divide here is between Labour MPs (who are actually interested in winning elections), and their navel-gazing socialist party members led by opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn. In the days following the Brexit result, 20 shadow Cabinet members left their posts and Labour MPs voted overwhelmingly that they had no confidence in Corbyn.
Corbyn maintains the support of the party members and has said he will not resign. MP Angela Eagle may challenge him, but nobody else will join the fray if Corbyn remains on the ballot paper, for fear of splitting the vote against him. Dan Jarvis, the charismatic, ex-paratrooper who would no doubt win votes from the Tories, and give Labour a fighting chance at the next general election, will probably not get a look in.
If it is uncertain what all this means for Britain, it is frankly anyone’s guess what it means for the Cayman Islands. Caymanians may not so easily use their British Overseas Territories passports to live and work in the EU. A deregulated City of London may be a stiffer competitor for offshore business, but then again, Cayman may no longer have to fear disclosure obligations being imposed at the EU level.
Only one thing is clear, this rollercoaster ride is not yet over – so keep your seatbelts fastened!
Nicholas Dixey is a local attorney.