It is becoming painfully clear just a day after the result of the EU referendum where the UK is heading politically.
David Cameron’s decision to resign – albeit in a delayed and orderly manner – has confirmed my worst fears. Although I approve of the decision in itself, and could see no appropriate way for him to continue, the consequences are likely to be disastrous.
The effect of the decision is to prolong what has already been a proxy leadership campaign into the autumn. The referendum was only ever a battle for control – not of the UK, but of the Conservative Party. Caught in the crossfire, voters were asked not to give a considered view on the future of the country, but a judgment on the current occupier of 10 Downing Street and the next.
Their verdict is now clear. Yet it is unlikely that they realise what has happened. The referendum was in effect a slow motion coup. I dislike using the word, but the engineering of events by Michael Gove and Boris Johnson is so disgraceful as to deserve it.
The end of the beginning has begun. Whether it is Gove or Boris in Downing Street makes little odds: the scenario I’m about to paint remains broadly the same.
Whoever takes over from Cameron seems very likely to look for a redrawn, looser agreement with the EU that meets the definition of withdrawal but retains some of the economic benefits of the single market. In short, the EEA option looks the most likely; a settlement similar to those enjoyed by Norway and Switzerland may be the result.
This will cause enormous problems. The Leave campaign explicitly argued for reduced immigration, relentlessly attacking Cameron and his government for failing to meet their self-imposed target, and arguing that only leaving the EU would solve the issue. The EEA option will not achieve this. It will impose continued freedom of movement on us, possibly with fewer controls than we currently enjoy.
The result will be anger. Anger on a scale that the UK has not seen in many years. And the people who will be most angry will be the same people who bought the Vote Leave arguments most completely.
Now, take a step back and look at the wider political environment. It is clear that Labour is in total disarray. They failed to convince large numbers of their own voters to follow their line on the EU. Those sceptics are the same ones that will be angriest when the new regime takes Britain into the EEA.
They will look for a party that understands their views and “legitimate concerns”, and that has taken a consistent, resolute stance on immigration. They will find what they are looking for in Nigel Farage and UKIP, the party that helped them throw off the shackles of Europe and reclaim their country.
Before this referendum I was concerned about the rise of nationalist forces in the UK. After it, I am terrified. We could well be entering a new political era where the only real challenge to the Conservative Party comes from the fascist right, enabled by the masses of unrepresented, disenchanted voters who have acquired a taste for revolution.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that by 2020 we will see UKIP become England’s second party.
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