In Melbourne’s words, ‘What all the wise men promised has not happened, and what all the damned fools said would happen has come to pass.’ This is much the gravest crisis in Britain’s democratic political history and the consequences of yesterday’s vote are wholly unfathomable. Those of us who supported Remain despite being Tory Eurosceptics thought that we had four conclusive arguments.
First, that Brexit would weaken Europe at a moment when it already faced major challenges in a dangerous world, which it showed few signs of confronting.
Second, that the EU would take whatever steps it could to limit the contagion from this Anglo-Saxon fever, even at the cost of some economic interests. Is it conceivable that the Euro-zone would continue to allow London to dominate its financial transactions. Financial services are a crucial component of the British economy: a veritable golden goose. But golden geese are migratory birds.
Third, that a Brexit victory would destroy a Tory premier and break up the Tory party.
Fourth, that it would threaten the Union with Scotland. Just when the Scottish Tories had discovered an outstanding young Leader, who could consolidate the Union while rebuilding Scottish Toryism, Brexit could drive the Tories back to the political margins while giving the Nats an excuse for a second Referendum – and an opportunity to win it.
Now, those of us who argued that case would seem have only one recourse. We must hope that we were wrong. But there is one alternative. Suppose David Cameron were to make a speech as follows. ‘My critics in other parties have claimed that I only resorted to the expedient of a referendum in order to appease the Euro-phobes in my own party, and that i was wrong to do so. They were right. We are a Parliamentary democracy, not a plebiscitary one. The way to resolve the European issue ought to be by General Elections and votes in the House of Commons. So I now propose to appeal from the verdict of the sovereign people in a referendum, to a new hearing in a General Election. As there is a substantial pro-EU majority in Parliament, this should not be difficult to organise. I know that a significant number of Tory MPs would find this unacceptable. But I would prefer an honest split to a demeaning fudge.
If I have to divide the Tory party in the national interest, so be it. Let the voters decide, in the proper fashion: at the polling-booths in a general election.’