Boris Johnson famously said that Winston Churchill would have voted for Brexit. The wartime leader’s grandson — staunch Remainer and Tory grandee Nicholas Soames — dismissed such claims as ‘appalling’ and ‘totally wrong’. This bad-tempered referendum rift between two traditionalist, Old Etonian Conservatives symbolises, somewhat incongruously perhaps, the broader state of the nation. Deep and traumatic divisions have been drawn between friends and families everywhere — and, of course, within political parties.
David Cameron’s dignified resignation speech has quickly given way to a grim determination to ‘Stop Boris’ from taking the Conservative crown and the Premiership. Labour, meanwhile, is in self-destruct mode, the parliamentary party in full rebellion against Jeremy Corbyn for his ineffective Remain campaign; which was unsurprising after a political lifetime spent needling the European Union.
Beyond domestic political pyrotechnics, the bigger picture is that the UK now faces an extremely complex negotiation with our soon-to-be-erstwhile EU partners. The rest of Europe — the entire world, in fact — is watching. After an exhausting campaign, UK voters on both sides of the referendum divide now want to know what Britain will argue for and what the EU high command will accept in terms of trade relations, cross-border regulation and, of course, immigration. It’s inevitable, though, that for some considerable time we simply won’t know.
Mere minutes after it became clear that Brexit had won, embittered Remainers were accusing Leavers of ‘cluelessness’ and ‘betrayal’ for being unable to provide detailed answers as to what exactly would happen now. The drumbeat of negativity has sounded ever since. But this is not only irresponsibly divisive, it’s also absurd.
A Brexit vote was always going to give a ferocious shake to the UK’s political kaleidoscope. Having campaigned so vehemently to Remain, there was no way Cameron could stay on as Prime Minister. Given this, how can we start negotiating even among ourselves, let alone with the broader EU, until there’s a new prime minister, chancellor and foreign secretary and their opposition counter-parts? A new Conservative leader won’t emerge until 2 September.