It’s six months to the day since the historic vote for the UK to leave the European Union. The intervening months have been, by the expectations set during the campaign, rather uneventful.
Sure, we’ve lost one Prime Minister and gained another (our second female leader to boot), the Government’s been dragged through the courts, Labour had it’s annual leadership election, UKIP ripped itself to shreds and the Lib Dems did, well, whatever it is they do these days. But the British landscape has been curiously devoid of recession, world war three, or the collapse of western civilisation.
Of course, far from having actually left, we have yet to begin the exit negotiations that commence upon the triggering of the notorious Article 50. Some of the blame for this can be laid at the feet of Vote Leave. Whilst it was ultimately a successful campaign, it contained no more substance than Stronger In’s doomed efforts to keep us tied to Brussels.
There was no Brexit plan laid out whatsoever, and whilst it allowed for more maneuverability during the campaign, enabling them to paint Brexit as whatever it’s current audience wanted it to be, it means that there’s been plenty of flapping around since.
This has actually played into the hands of continuity Remainers who wish to see the referendum result ignored. The lack of any sort of plan allows them to indicate that we’re woefully unprepared for the challenges ahead, and/or push for a Brexit so close to continued EU membership as makes no difference.
The vacuousness of some of Vote Leave’s campaign messages has left Leavers wide open to these criticisms. Touting the £350m figure was a spectacular own goal, as the same point could just as easily be made using the net figure, or even the savings to be gleaned from an EEA/EFTA position.
Not that all of the blame can be laid at the feet of Vote Leave. They were after all only a campaign group, and regardless of how detailed or otherwise any plan of theirs may have been, they were not being elected. A point seemingly lost on Chuka Umunna and his meaningless ‘Vote Leave watch’ outfit.
David Cameron on the other hand, when he called the referendum, should have put more effort into ensuring government and the civil service was prepared for either eventuality, rather than enlisting the machinery of government to campaign for his favoured outcome. The lack of preparation for a Leave vote, and the arrogance that signifies, should mean history sees him vilified, regardless of his other achievements.
This is why, despite the calls to invoke Article 50 immediately, there has been a necessary delay whilst the government finds it’s feet. They’re certainly taking their time, but slowly but surely they seem to be coming to grips with what can and can’t be achieved during the two year Article 50 negotiation period.
But if Vote Leave has been shown to be the shallow campaign it was, Stronger In’s entire case for remain has been utterly obliterated. In the immediate aftermath of the vote they pointed to the fall in sterling as proof positive of the economic ruin that awaited a United Kingdom sans EU membership.
But economists have long been arguing that the pound was overvalued, and a devaluation was necessary and desirable in order to rebalance the economy. This has been demonstrated in both the FTSE 100 and 250 which have soared since the vote in June, now sitting comfortably above their pre-referendum levels.
Nor has there been an exodus of investment. A cursory glance at the ironic #DespiteBrexit hashtag on Twitter unveils a litany of, shock horror, good news in the wake of the referendum result. From car manufacturers (plural), to banks, to supermarkets, a litany of companies have committed to the UK for the foreseeable future.
This is because the UK still remains an attractive place for businesses to invest. Forbes yesterday moved the UK from tenth to fifth in it’s list of the best places in the world to do business. Couple this with the OBR predicting further growth of 1.4% in 2017, returning to the long run average by 2019, as opposed to the -0.7% recession predicted by the Treasury, and the foretold economic armageddon looks as likely as Jeremy Corbyn becoming PM.
All this is taking place alongside a sideshow of various challenges to UK democracy. The high court battle on whether Parliament should vote on triggering Article 50 seems somewhat of a red herring, and has wrongly been shouted down by Brexiteers worried about the result being overturned.
Their fears aren’t completely unfounded, given the ‘March for Europe’ demonstrations in London (they would be much more accurately entitled ‘March Against Democracy‘), the various petitions for a second referendum, and the numerous MPs and political leaders, celebrities, and academics calling for another vote or for the vote to be ignored outright. It’s been quite a spectacularly worrying admonition of democracy.
Those that would seek to subvert the result in this way should perhaps be careful what they wish for, considering the latest poll shows that we’d still vote to Leave were there a second referendum. Given the largely positive economic news since the vote, negating Stronger In’s entire shtick, it’s not exactly difficult to see why.
We’re still three months away from Theresa May’s stated timetable for Article 50 notification. Ministers appear to be catching on to the inevitability of an interim EEA or ‘Norway’ option, as we begin unpicking 40 years of political integration with mainland Europe. Brexit was never going to be an event, it was always going to be a process.
Post-Brexit politics has made the last six months utterly enthralling. But it’s mostly been white noise thus far. Once the Article 50 ball comes loose from the back of the scrum, and negotiations with the EU begin in earnest, things will start to get really interesting. Roll on March 2017.