Almost three weeks after the Brexit vote, the British public remains in shock. It is not just because opinion polls were wrong (as they were during the general election last year) or because even the bookmakers, normally so accurate, miscalled the race. Rather, voters are surprised that an entire political class could have pegged them so wrong.
It has become clear that, contrary to frequent assurances, the government and civil service did very little to scope out a post-Brexit future and have thus been caught in a terrible dereliction of duty. If the leaders of the Leave campaign looked visibly shaken by what they had achieved, it was even more telling that their Remain colleagues disappeared into furious silence. Prime Minister David Cameron—who immediately broke the Remain slogan “Brits don’t quit” and quit—and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne went to ground for a weekend, apparently dismayed by a country that had failed to follow their advice. For three days, only an appearance by the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, did anything to reassure nervous global markets.
The next week was the longest of anyone’s political lifetime. Mass resignations from the opposition’s Shadow Cabinet paved the way for the Labour Party’s latest attempts to eject their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, whom they charged with having campaigned too halfheartedly for the losing side in the referendum.
That was nothing, however, compared to the brutality on the Conservative side. The pact between Michael Gove and Boris Johnson—the two highest-profile members of the Leave team, who were going to run for the top jobs as a team—ended up destroying them both when Gove pulled out of running Johnson’s election campaign and then found himself kept out of the final two in the leadership race by the Conservatives.
By the end of last week, the United Kingdom thus faced a nine-week slog to replace David Cameron between Home Secretary Theresa May (who, like Corbyn, Remain) and Andrea Leadsom, a junior figure who had campaigned for Leave and had been startlingly propelled forward in the aftermath of the vote. The prospect of an entire summer of debate between May and Leadsom delighted no one. During this time, the United Kingdom’s standing with the EU would remain uncertain—and its relationship with the rest of world even more so.
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