It’s not as if the outcome of the British EU-Referendum took me by surprise. Brexit had been my base case, for over two weeks. Not because this was my favourite outcome – it clearly isn’t – but because I have come to distrust people and their ability to make rational, long term decisions. In addition to that, I also did not trust the polls nor the bookmakers. They got it wrong before, so why should their forecasting accuracy magically increase just before the referendum?
Friday was thus not a day of shock and horror for me but one of painful realization. Yes, there are questions in life that should not be decided by a referendum. Yes, there is a strong divide between the rich and the poor in this country, a lot of anti-establishment sentiment, a lot of stupidity, naivety and wishful thinking.
What did surprise me though was the amount of people that only realized their mistake after the results were announced. #Bregret and #WhatHaveWeDone quickly became trending hashtags on Twitter. From around 5:30 AM on Friday, people started googling what the impact of their choice could be. “What is Brexit?” was, according to Google, one of the most frequent questions typed into the search engine, besides “What is the EU?” and “What happens if we leave the EU?”.
TV interviews with average voters, mostly from the Leave-camp, solidified that impression. A voter questioned by the BBC said: “My vote – I didn’t think was going to matter too much because I thought we were just going to remain.” Wishful thinking, hm? But Adam, as the BBC named him, was not alone. Another voter, Mandy, told the BBC: “I was very disappointed about the result, even though I voted to leave, this morning I woke up and the reality did actually hit me. But if I had the opportunity to vote again, it would be to stay.” More wishful thinking. ITV also found plenty of these disillusioned Leave-voters. Suthi, a women from Manchester, told the broadcaster that her whole family voted for Brexit, without considering the consequences: “I said to my sisters, ‘I wish we had opportunity to vote again.'”
The same effect took hold when the Daily Mail, a strong supporter of a Leave-vote, started explaining to readers on Friday what the outcome actually meant for them. Travels to Europe would become more expensive because of the drop of the Pound Sterling, Britons could lose the right to work in the EU, pensions have lost value, studying and travelling in the EU could become more difficult.
Nothing new, at least to people that thought rationally before the referendum. But to many Daily Mail readers, this was actually brand new, at least if you judge by the comments made by some of them. “So the Remain camp were telling the truth”, Victor Mildrew, from Leeds, commented. “So we are screwed”, a reader with the nickname Up North, wrote. “Maybe it wasn’t a good idea at all”, Lulu45 from London stated.
More than three million people have signed a petition for a second referendum. Parliament will now have to consider that petition, as it does with every one that is signed by more than 100.000 people. Because of the fact that the Leave-side did win with less than 60 percent of the votes and that the turnout was less than 75 percent, there is a call for retrospective legislation. Some of my friends are desperately clinging to this, stating “We are not out yet” and “the referendum is not legally binding”.
Yes, it is not legally binding and it will take a while until Cameron’s successor formally enforces Article 50 in order to negotiate the exit. But I guess chances of a second referendum are close to zero. The UK would become laughing stock (even more), it would disregard the choice of 51,9 percent of its population and, don’t forget, some of the damage has already been done, as banks have started working on relocating some of their staff to Continental Europe.
As Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble put it, “in is in. Out is out”. The British population will now have to live with their choice. Ironically, it is the young generation that was strongly for Remain that now bears the brunt of the decision. They will be the ones living the longest – in a potentially smaller country (as Scotland might vote to leave), with a smaller economy, less chances and opportunities, a lot of resentment towards the generation of their parents and that of their grandparents that got them into this situation.
There is at least one thing I am taking home from this. The fact that there are already a lot of people regretting their choice tells me that there are issues of a certain magnitude that should not be decided by a referendum. Although they were warned by all leading economists in the world, people did not want to listen. Reason has lost out against emotion.