Progressive parties must urgently act to offset the worst effects of Brexit
The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union.
We should repeat it often, because for many the decision itself has yet to sink in, yet alone its mammoth implications.
Already, many of the most extreme warnings against Brexit — dismissed by Boris Johnson and friends as ‘Project Fear’— have been realised, or exceeded.
The pound has had its worst day ever, going into freefall as soon as results started coming in. When trading opened in London this morning, the FTSE100 Index followed the currency off the cliff.
Britain’s economy has fallen from being the fifth largest in the world — a constant source of nationalist pride for the Leave campaign — to being the sixth largest, falling behind France as a result of the pound’s collapse.
The reverberations have hurt economies around the world, including Britain’s friends and erstwhile EU allies.
The impact on British industry and jobs is not yet known, but will be severe. There are already reports of major City firms relocating to elsewhere in Europe.
Nicola Sturgeon has, unsurprisingly, announced that she considers a second independence referendum highly likely and her government will immediately begin to make legal arrangements for such a vote.
Even more worrying is the situation in Northern Ireland, the other nation where Remain won a majority.
Sinn Féin has already called for a referendum on Irish unification and the question of the border with the Irish Republic remains unresolved.
At the very least, it’s difficult to see how the power-sharing executive will survive the coming months, nor can we rule out more dangerous forms of unrest.
It is clear that to a greater extent than most realised, the UK is a country riven by deep divisions, exploited masterfully by the Leave campaign.
Divisions grounded in class and region, between rural ‘heartlanders’ and urban ‘elites’, between ‘natives’ and ‘immigrants’, between the old and young.
And of course these divisions are matched by the deep splits within Britain’s major political parties.
But the glare of the Tory and Labour civil wars, and David Cameron’s resignation, should not overwhelm the urgent challenges facing all UK leaders in the coming days: shoring up the economy, boosting market confidence, and developing an exit plan ahead of EU negotiations.
We cannot rely on Johnson, Gove and the other leading lights of the Leave campaign because it has become frighteningly clear that they have no idea what they’re doing.
Progressive parties must find common ground and work together to minimise the harm done to Britain’s most vulnerable communities, to ensure continued protection of rights for workers, women, refugees and minority ethnic groups, to protect Britain’s environment and guarantee its security.
As we at Left Foot Forward have made clear, this is not the outcome we wanted. The country feels smaller and darker already, claustrophobic even.
But progressive politics must be grounded in pragmatism and right now there simply isn’t time for grief and recrimination.
It’s a brave new world, and there’s work to do.
Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Find her on Twitter.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.