By Malathy Sitaram
Friday, the 24th of June, 2016 will go down in British History as the day of a seismic political shock that shook the country and the world as it became clear by midnight last night that the Leave camp was winning. By early morning that result was confirmed. The people had spoken and Britain was Out of the EU after 40 years as a member. There will be no recount, no going back. The voters’ choice is irreversible. Immediately the pound plunged downwards. Is this the worst regressive day in post- war British History or a new forward looking and healthy Dawn? The post- mortem will show that deep resentment was felt in the Labour heartlands in the North and North East against the metropolitan elite as reflected in the voting pattern. In England, it seems the white working class voted for Exit. The Labour party is in disarray today over the poor leadership shown by Mr. Corbyn in promoting Remain. Most of the Scottish electorate voted to stay as also in Northern Ireland. There will be profound negative shocks in those regions which might lead to a breakup of the British Union.
This writer’s household was firmly in the Remain Camp and until 10.30 last night we were assured by a late YouGov poll that victory was on our side. The pound was recovering steadily as it had been doing in the last week or so. Reassured by the margin of a 4% victory around 10.30 pm, we went to bed, looking forward to a fresh start on the morrow. A misleading poll as was soon obvious when the results started to come in and of which we were unaware until this morning. David Cameron announced his early resignation as Prime Minister around 8.20 this morning but many people will be hoping that he might be persuaded to stay on to complete the electoral mandate he was given last year. Only a few days ago he had stated that whatever the outcome he would stay on as PM. Most people would agree that he has been a decent and honourable leader who in my view made the fatal error of giving in to the endless pressure from the right wing of his party by calling a Referendum. Now as predicted, markets are falling and there is a sense of huge uncertainty in the air.
For the last fortnight, it has been a rollercoaster of a ride as the two camps, Remain and Leave slogged it out as in a boxing match with innumerable debates on television with each side claiming victory. The Leave Camp played on the fear of ‘uncontrolled immigration’ and its bruising effect on public services, whilst the Remain Camp concentrated on the sound and healthy economy prevailing in Britain and the material benefits of our membership of the EU. The chief players, Cameron, John Major, Blair, Nicola Sturgeon in the Remain Camp and Farage, Michael Gove, Gisela Stuart and Boris Johnson in opposition, were on view almost every night on television along with their supporters. The Leave Camp seemed to depend on the endless repetition of the slogan “Take Back Control”. And “Take our Country Back”. Huge audiences attended and were neatly divided into three camps: Remain, Leave and Undecided. The speakers battled to convince the Undecided to support their respective positions. Cameron focussed on the benefits of belonging to a large economic bloc and market, whilst the Leavers preferred independence. They talked a great deal about ‘recovering our sovereignty’.
On the whole the debates were conducted in a civil way with the audience cheering their chosen mascots. The Leave Campaign however blotted its copybook with a few outright lies. They told voters that Britain had to pay £350 million every week to the EU, omitting to say that most of that came back from the EU in rebates. They also claimed that that there would be an imminent huge influx of Turks into Britain. Last week, people were shocked when Farage launched a ginormous poster which showed an endless queue of brown skinned people waiting to enter Britain with a headline of Breaking Point. It certainly was a Breaking Point for Baroness Warsi who resigned from the Leave Camp and joined the opposition in protest against the racist overtones of the Leave emphasis on migration. Another MP from the Leave Camp, Sarah Wollaston had done the same a few days earlier in protest against the Leave Camp’s ‘lies’ about money leaving the NHS. She said that on the contrary, the EU funded much medical research and the NHS. We now know that all the warnings against departure by the IMF, the governor of the Bank of England and many other financial organisations fell on deaf ears.
Tragedy struck on Thursday the 16th June, when Jo Cox, the 42 year old Labour MP for the Batley and Spen constituency in Yorkshire was murdered in public outside her constituency surgery by a man with far Right affiliations who thought she was a traitor to Britain because she was in favour of immigration and was much concerned with the plight of Syrians. She was shot and stabbed several times and her death led to an enormous wave of public outrage. All campaigning came to a halt as the country mourned her death. On Monday the 20th, there was a sombre day of speeches celebrating the short life of Jo Cox in Parliament with her husband and two young children and her parents in the Visitors’ gallery. For a very short while it seemed that her death led to sympathy for the Remain cause and the pound continued to rise.
We always knew it would be a very narrow margin by which one of the two sides would win. The actual outcome has landed us in unfamiliar territory and the government must move quickly to reduce the financial fallout if possible. But a lot of people and I are asking and wondering why Cameron called this Referendum which has backfired on him.
Malathy Sitaram was the first Asian teacher of English in Wiltshire schools. She was the first Asian to be appointed to the Swindon Bench of Justices of the Peace and also the first magistrate in the country to be appointed to serve on the new Sentencing Guidelines Committee under the Chairmanship of the Lord Chief Justice from 2004 to 2010.