‘Time to say goodbye’ is a lovely song by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. It was sung in English and Italian and was popular in the 1990s. We were all very communautaire then, but alas not any more. It is however a most fitting swan song for Britain and Europe, and I played it in my car as I drove to work over Lambeth Bridge on Friday 24 June 2016 after Britain voted to leave the EU.
The Houses of Parliament are to the east as you cross the bridge. Nigel Farage was there yapping on and on from the crack of dawn, plagiarising Boris Johnson’s reference to an English Independence Day, and having his day of triumph which, loath him as I do, I cannot begrudge.
Beyond Parliament and just off Whitehall is Downing Street where the prime minister resigned shortly after 8 am. He could not do otherwise. A few miles north in Islington, Boris Johnson – heir presumptive – left home to jeers of ‘shame on you.’
What a day? It felt surreal in that the Leave campaign themselves could either not believe it themselves or felt the strange melancholy that comes with victory.
London voted overwhelmingly to remain, as did Scotland and Northern Ireland. In areas where the Cypriots are concentrated – areas like Haringey and Enfield – Londoners voted to remain in huge numbers as predicted in this column. But the rest of England voted out. And so it must be even though London, which voted to remain will thereby lose its status as the financial centre of Europe to Frankfurt – all because of the vote of people who are net recipients of the state aid paid for by successful Londoners. Referendums are a daft way to decide such matters in a representative democracy. But we are where we are and now have to pay for the spat of the toffs. It is like the old days at the Bullingdon Club for Cameron and Johnson. The toffs play and the proles pay.
The question now is, what does the result of the referendum mean?
You would think first and foremost it means that Britain will leave the EU. Well, yes and no. For Britain to leave she must formally invoke the leave procedure after which there is a two-year limitation period. Strange as it may seem, Brussels wants Britain to leave quickly albeit under tough conditions to avoid contagion. People like Boris Johnson however want to drag the procedure on for a while and even renegotiate the terms under which Britain could remain.
Europe would be mad to reject such overtures from the British if they occur. I think Boris Johnson said this is what he had in mind when he decided to back the Leave campaign. As I wrote before on many occasions, there are good reasons for refining the freedom of movement provisions in the light of experience to suit countries like Britain that attract a disproportionate number of migrants.
Freedom of movement of persons is a controversial freedom because there is no approximation in the standard and quality of life between member states from East Europe and Britain.
I have never understood why the British government did not avail itself of the transitional provisions in order to control the movement of large numbers of East Europeans into Britain after enlargement in 2004. Anyone with knowledge of immigration law and practice could have told the government of the time that its projection on numbers was ridiculously small. Most other countries put in place transitional provisions, but the British did not. I am still not clear why they did not do so as the Home Office knows everything there is to know about immigration trends.
Still, there is no basis at all for Europe to be fundamentalist about freedom of movement since, as Cypriot depositors discovered in the 2013 haircut crisis, in exceptional circumstances, freedom of movement of capital was curtailed with the full support of the EU, so in principle there is no reason why the same cannot be done in the case of freedom of movement of people. And it is not beyond the wit of all those highly paid officials employed at the Commission to devise a system whereby it is possible to manage immigration by computer aided algorithmic trigger mechanisms in accordance with agreed presumptions. The effect of such a system would be that EU nationals would revert to being subject to normal immigration control until the trigger is dis-applied; thus satisfying one of the most important demands of the Leave campaign and their supporters.
For Scotland, the referendum result means there will have to be another referendum whether to remain part of the UK. The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said that this would take place before Britain left the EU because Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain and it would be fundamentally undemocratic if she were forced out of the EU against her will. Would that London could do the same?
In 2014 David Cameron was overheard saying that HM the Queen purred like a pussy cat when he told her that her beloved Scotland voted to keep her kingdom together. I wonder what feline outburst she made when she heard Nicola Sturgeon say that that Scotland will revisit the question in another referendum. This was the reason I never believed for a second that HM was for Brexit. But it gets worse, because Northern Ireland too voted to remain and there have been muted murmurings there too about having a referendum to remain in the EU by uniting with the Republic of Ireland.
So little England will be little literally and metaphorically. Every time I think of Britain without Scotland I think that she has been decapitated, which is why I still hope that Britain has not fallen over the precipice yet.
But the campaign and the result have serious implications for Turkey too. Her application to join the EU is moribund and should be abandoned forthwith. The British were her keenest supporters and they are going to be out soon.
In the campaign it was made plain that Turkey will not be joining the EU this century. It was necessary to make this clear by the Remain campaign because the idea of Turkey joining and the consequences to immigration was regarded as the most important vote winner of the Leave campaign. In the process, Turks were demonised and racially abused in a way that if it were done against Indians and Africans we would never have heard the end of it. The lesson I draw from the scale of the abuse against the Turkish people in the British referendum campaign is that in France it would be much worse. There really is no way Turkey is going to join the EU. But if Britain finds a way of being both ‘in’ and ‘out’ perhaps Turkey could aim for something similar.
Alper Ali Riza is a queen’s counsel in the UK and a part time judge