The contribution of Yanis Varoufakis to the lacklustre Brexit debate has proven one of the few genuine surprises this otherwise dreary political summer has had to offer – after all, the renegade economist (who, as Greek Finance Minister, hatched a bungled conspiracy to extract his own country from the European Union) emerged as no natural advocate for the Remain campaign. Yet, with the Outers victorious and the UK’s entire future suddenly in the air, his prophecies seem more invaluable than ever.
Whilst Varoufakis is ‘convinced … that Leave was the wrong choice’, he is quick to dispel the more Biblical platitudes emanating from his vanquished side. After much gnashing of teeth, Brussels will offer the British government an association agreement; market chaos will be staved off, and, with In conclusively vanquished on the democratic front, the following months and years provide an opportunity for cooler heads on either side to hammer out a generous compromise. Though the momentousness of Britain’s decision cannot be denied, it looks unlikely at this stage to be mirrored by a permanent realignment within national politics, as envisaged by Toby Young – the Conservative and Labour parties are simply too weak to preside over such an historic project, whilst UKIP’s drift into the Tory rank-and-file is all but assured.
All this is not to be construed as an optimistic assessment, however, for in no conceivable form does Brexit serve to address the major domestic controversies of our age. The Leave coalition, a motley alliance of pensioners, opportunistic Tory ministers and ‘patriotic’ rural elements, cannot expect to hold as the realities of their situation sink in – the leadership has promised voters nothing less than a British renaissance, and negotiations with the EU are likely to yield terms unacceptable to the fire-eaters. Those on the side-lines whom had anticipated some degree of closure regardless of the referendum’s outcome are in for a shock – as has been stressed before, the bile and archaism at the heart of the Out campaign represents not a passing phase, but a permanent tendency within Euro-American politics. Brexit has energised reactionary forces at home and on the continent; the results of any future diplomatic settlement are secondary.
The possibility of Scottish independence, on the other hand, is bound up inextricably with that settlement, as the SNP now finds itself in a position to mobilise a population infinitely more alienated from their British countrymen than they were around the time of 2014’s referendum; securing a deal that can satisfy both Europhiliac Scots and wrathful Little Englanders is the daunting, nigh impossible task facing Westminster. The Nationalists have no cakewalk ahead, however. Negotiating a Scottish accession to the EU will be an arduous, uncertain process, and Brussels itself will not necessarily even warm to the SNP’s requests – the Spanish government, for instance, has every interest in vetoing such proposals.
There is then, of course, the matter of the imminent snap election. The souls of both major parties are ripe for the picking, and David Cameron’s successor as Conservative leader is likely to seek out a public mandate (the Tory majority in Parliament is already thin). The unnerving prospect of a Boris Johnson ministry (very plausible, though not inevitable) demands a whole other article in its own right. Meanwhile, the post-Brexit fallout has already consumed the Labour Party, with Jeremy Corbyn staring down the barrel of a leadership challenge. It is hard to see Her Majesty’s Opposition making a credible bid for power in the near-future, particularly if internal squabbling costs the party two or three crucial months of campaigning. An early general election, however, may prove a poisoned chalice – no party looks presently disposed to reap any significant benefit from it, particularly as the full toll of an EU pull-out remains to be seen.
In all, Brexit has few winners. Only the losers need yet be identified.