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David Cameron waves goodbye from Downing Street: Driven from office, but could he be the long-term winner of the referendum? (©GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images)


The June 23 referendum has overturned half a century of cross-party consensus. The assumptions and presumptions of every area of public life have been shattered. The political landscape is transformed. The fundamental basis of British administration must be reassessed, realigned and renewed. Add your own preferred cliché here.

No, really, the referendum result is genuinely significant. Our masters, the electorate, have just junked the geopolitical strategy which has guided Britain since the Suez fiasco of 1956, i.e. the idea that the UK can’t go it alone. By anyone’s reckoning that is a Big Thing. But people were far more interested in the Olympic Games, which fortuitously landed a bigger-than expected haul of medals for Team GB, and in the short term there has been far more controversy over what happens with the Great British Bake Off. Yet if the Brexit vote isn’t quite up there in the same category as the fall of the Berlin Wall or 9/11 — and the jury is still out on that — it is going to have equivalent ramifications for British politics.

Of course, some Remainiacs would dearly love to reverse the referendum outcome. The chances of a second referendum are not trivial. There will have to be another EU Treaty at some point, if only to sort out the eurozone. With the British example in everyone’s minds, the nuisance value of a government holding the process to ransom has rocketed. Britain is not the only country with doubts about the free movement of people. Most likely, the EU will loudly trumpet that free movement is a sine qua non of EU membership, and then quietly discover that of course nobody ever meant it to mean XYZ. It is not unreasonable to assume there will be a relaxation of the EU grip, probably on terms that Brussels should have offered David Cameron in the first place. Assuming that the Commission is capable of learning from experience (a dangerous assumption), it could be arranged for this new Treaty to be thrashed out in parallel with the Brexit negotiations and the completion of both to be synchronised, before the 2020 UK general election.

So we can imagine Sir Humphrey quietly whispering to the Prime Minister that while, of course, the 2016 result must be respected, that was a vote to leave an EU which no longer exists, and it is only prudent to offer the public a chance for second thoughts. And if Sir Humphrey doesn’t do so, because he thinks the Prime Minister will tell him to take a running jump, the idea will certainly occur to the inmates of the left-liberal retirement home known as the House of Lords who will have a veto over any Brexit legislation and will claim that the only way to break the deadlock between them and the Commons is a democratic tie-breaker. Good luck with that.

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