After a political earthquake of unprecedented scale, Britain is left seeking both a new Prime Minister and a new place in the world.
A series of polls in the 48 hours before the referendum gave Remain false comfort that they were heading for victory, but from the first results of the night in Newcastle and Sunderland it quickly became clear that the script was going to be rather different to that. Whilst London, Northern Ireland and Scotland were going to Remain, across the rest of the UK huge majorities were piling up for the Leave. Critically, the turnout in Leave areas consistently outstripped those in London and Scotland.
Inevitably, David Cameron was gone as Prime Minister before breakfast was over. The Prime Minister had skated on thin ice more than once over the last six years, and at some point he was bound to fall through it. He gambled on his ability to persuade the British people to stay in the EU, but this morning that gamble is left looking reckless rather than reasoned. Cameron wants to stay on until October, but already noises are coming from the Leave campaign that he may be forced from office even before then.
The process of what happens next is far from clear. David Cameron has said the formal two-year process of departure won’t start until the Autumn, but pressure from Europe already suggests they would rather we move more quickly. Key will be the view the Leave campaign take on this issue, and if Gove and Boris Johnson agree then the PM will have little choice but to accelerate his plans.
At the same time, a contest to replace David Cameron as Conservative Leader and Prime Minister commences. Conservative MP’s will choose two candidates for the party membership to choose between. Already, Boris has been installed as favourite but there are many who oppose him and a “stop Boris” unity candidate may well prove an attractive option for a party that has fought a civil war in the last three months.
Across the rest of the political spectrum, the consequences are so wide reaching that it is impossible to contemplate them all today. From constitutional questions like Scottish independence and the Northern Ireland question, to domestic ones like aviation expansion and HS2, the whole policy landscape is now up for grabs.
Mao famously said it was “too early to tell” what the consequences of the French Revolution were. That’s certainly true for Brexit this afternoon.