Whatever happens on 23 June – British politics will never be the same. Personal rubicons have been crossed, friendships strained or even snapped in two, and the sense of ‘two Britains’ has emerged more clearly than ever. The most defining debate is about our national character and identity.
In two weeks’ time Britons make a momentous decision about the future of the UK, its remit in the world and perhaps its own very future as a united kingdom. We all have to be ready for the results of a Leave or a Remain vote. Let me paint a picture of what that might mean and what to look out for.
Global markets – informed by their own private exit polling – may start to react before the polls have even closed. Beyond Asian markets it looks like many will trade throughout the night. Watch out for hour by hour volatility as the latest batch of private poll data gets fed through to traders.
Before midnight on 23 June we will get a sense of turnout. Anything less than 60% will be viewed as good for the Brexiteers. Anything above 65% is regarded as good for the Remain-ians.
By 3am or 4am on 24 June a national trend may be clear, BUT the broadcasters are scenario planning for some messy recount battles in closely fought areas which might delay the timing of the overall declaration well into mid-morning.
So, what if it’s a vote to Leave? All my conversations with both Brexiteers and Remain-ians on the Tory benches in recent weeks are clear. There is a majority mood for the PM to stay in place. But he may choose to go of his own accord. At least a timetable for this will be set out. That race is likely to conclude around the time of the Tory conference in October.
There is potential for a crisis reaction from Brussels and an emergency summit to work through options. Boris – who floated the idea of two referendums earlier this year – would be salivating at that prospect. But his appeal in the parliamentary party remains highly limited, whereas Michael Gove is seen as genuine and having fought an honourable campaign. I am expecting his preferment in any scenario.
Months of negotiations lie ahead and watch out for the possibility of a rapid General Election later in 2016. The broadcasters are already planning for one.
Having attacked business ‘elites’ during the campaign there will be a need to be reaching out to business. Ensuring continued Single Market access will be the key first demand from Britain’s boardrooms.
The question of IndyRef2 in Scotland will be immediately back on the table. Expect Nicola Sturgeon to head to Brussels and designate ScotREP to ‘protect Scotland’s interests’ while the UK government looks to haggle with the EU.
But if we Remain…..and the betting odds and prospects for turnout do seem to be indicating a Remain win at this stage…..
This will still be a significant moment for the UK and the nature of the win will reflect the shape of the Government in the weeks that follow. The initial reaction in the markets will be hugely positive but the political reaction will depend on the size of the prize. A large Remain win with a majority of Tory voters backing the PM and his Chancellor means a reconciliation reshuffle, where some Brexiters will be brought back in to the fold – though others may not be so lucky.
But watch out for UKIP to make a big offer to disaffected Tories. They are not going to go quietly.
And perhaps a return to politics as usual? Not a chance!