Okay, after the Leave vote – what happens now? Assuming for a minute we’re not told to have the vote again until it goes the correct way. (Despite that being precisely what happened to both Ireland and Denmark.)
Another way of asking the same question – why did Boris Johnson decide at the last minute to join Brexit? Not only is there little previous evidence of Euroscepticism on his part, he used to say he wanted Turkey to become a member. Precisely what he's now baselessly accusing others of. And the answer to that is obvious, he thinks it will hand him the keys to Downing Street. His arguments – a combination of outright lies, slander, bluster and suggestion – are essentially interchangeable to Farage’s. Why bother with good arguments? They just need to work.
The British Right has long had a particularly distorted view of the EU, compressing it into a caricature to best fit their agenda. In times past, the Soviet Union provided the always useful bad counter-example. We just needed to do the opposite to their moribund bureaucracy, eschewing planned economies for deregulation and ‘free markets’. Once a guy has the right to open up a corner shop, everything else will fall into place. Now that has gone, they are stuck with painting the EU in the same colours of “stifling” regulation. And the colours don’t apply at all. They raise an austerity-imposing, neoliberal flag to rail against an austerity-imposing neoliberal body. Just ask the Greeks about the gifts they got...
They were aided and abetted on this by a Left who largely preferred to pretend the EU was all about benevolent regulation. Most absurdly, during the referendum they continued to argue the EU was a safeguard of worker’s rights just as French workers were having to fight tooth and nail to keep theirrights.
But mostly it was fortune who handed Leave a hostage. Or more accurately, two hostages they claimed as one. A combination of EU enlargement and the refugee crisis, separate events they shamelessly spliced together, allowed them to fight this campaign on a basis of immigration, immigration, immigration. As RationalWiki has pointed out “The UK is only admitting a tiny fraction of the migrants which are seeking asylum in Europe. The 'take back control of our borders' argument is a false argument being used to justify a false argument.”
While the influx of EU migrants was already past it's peak. In 2004 ten new countries joined, including the sizeable Poland. As the majority of member states promptly got cold feet and delayed their right of free movement, a disproportionate number came to Britain. (Their only other choices being Sweden and Ireland.) There's no realistic prospect of another country joining in the near future. Even if we were to see immigration as some kind of problem in itself, which there's no reason to whatsoever, to act now would be the classic slamming the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Who voted leave? They were mostly skewed along two axes – older, and more likely to be from working class backgrounds. Look at a map of the results, and overall Out was strongest in the poorest areas. The people who had lost out most to neoliberalism were handed their target. Which wasn’t multimillionaires like Philip Green, the man who took the BHS pension fund to buy himself an extra yacht. The poor’s true enemy was the even poorer.
Johnson has cynically talked the turkeys into voting for Christmas.
Which leads us back to the question – what happens when it gets to Christmas? Not only will Johnson’s promises not bring about what Brexit voters are hoping for, he will not even be able to bring about those promises. Asked in one of those interminable TV debates whether he was actually saying Brexit would bring down immigration, he evaded the question in a blur of blondness. Of course he did.
My guess would be that, should he succeed in becoming Prime Minister, Johnson will do nothing to stop the free movement of labour whatsoever. Yes, he could in theory impose quotas. But then the affected countries would just respond in kind. Which would damage the economy he's always going on about protecting. Free market anti-globalisation is a nonsense, a chocolate teapot of a policy. It can only be promised while keeping your fingers crossed behind your back. Britain will almost certainly either stay in the European Economic Area (like Norway) or do that in effect while pretending not to (like Switzerland). ‘Leaving’ the EU will mean nothing of the kind.
But what he will do is further erode worker's rights within the UK. Some of this might actually be directed at migrant workers, such as lengthening the already discriminatory delay before they can claim benefits here. But most of it will be aimed at all British workers, if dressed up in terms of keeping migrant workers in line.
So will people then see through his flim flam? Or, noticing the promised drop in the number of immigrants hasn’t happened while neither have their wages improved, will they go on to blame the migrants and Johnson? And who might come along to capitalise on that?
However far right, however stuffed with fruit loops and racists UKIP might have been, Britain has not yet had the pleasure of an actual fascist movement as have so many neighbouring countries. (The nearest we've had, the English Defence League, has imploded. Britain First talk themselves up on-line, but barely exist in the real world. And being associated with the murder of an MP will scarcely do them any favours.) But opportunity may soon be knocking...
Things might not stay this bad. They may get even worse…