Jonathan Freedland writes: We have woken up in a different country. The Britain that existed until 23 June 2016 will not exist any more.
For those who ran the leave campaign – and for the clear majority who voted to leave the European Union – that is a cause for celebration. This, they insist, will be remembered as our “independence day”. From now, they say, Britain will be a proud, self-governing nation unshackled by the edicts of Brussels.
But for the 48% who voted the other way, and for most of the watching world, Britain is changed in a way that makes the heart sink rather than soar.
For one thing, there is now a genuine question over the shape of this kingdom. Scotland (like London) voted to remain inside the European Union. Every one of its political parties (bar the UK Independence Party) urged a remain vote. Yet now Scotland is set to be dragged out of the EU, against its collective will.
The demand will be loud and instant for Scotland to assure its own destiny by breaking free of the UK. This is precisely the kind of “material change” that the Scottish National party always said would be enough to warrant a second referendum to follow the one held in 2014. And this time, surely, there will be a majority for independence. So a first legacy of 23 June could well be the imminent break-up of the UK.
The implications will be profound for Northern Ireland too. The return of a “hard border” between north and south imperils a peace which was hard-won and too often taken for granted. Note this morning’s warning from Sinn Fein that the British government has “forfeited any mandate to represent the economic and political interests of people in Northern Ireland.”
Of course, the divisions don’t end there. England is exposed as a land divided: London, along with the cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Bristol stood apart from the rest of England and Wales in wanting to stay in. There is a yawning class divide, pitting city against town and, more profoundly, those who feel they have something to lose against those who feel they do not. What determined the outcome as much as anything else was the fact that the latter group, many concentrated in what used to be called Labour heartlands, defied the party’s call and voted out. This is a deep rift that will haunt the politics of the coming era. [Continue reading…]