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Editorial Friday 24 June 2016: Leaving the EU? What could possibly go wrong?


After a divisive, and clearly misleading campaign, the UK voted by a small margin to leave the European Union in yesterday's referendum.

This is not good news.

For all Michael Gove's suggested sufficiency of experts, the widely-predicted risks to the UK economy have come true.

It's depressing to review the voting intention data, and see that the Leave campaign got much of its votes from worse-off, worse-educated people living in more deprived communities.

It is clear that the regions with the biggest votes for Leave are also the most economically dependent on the EU, and yet people voted against their best interests.

This analysis for the Fabian Soiciety correlates voting intention with cultural attitudes to illuminating effect.

It is too early to know how severe the economic consequences will prove to be. Financial markets - bond, currency, stock - are prone to over-react. But the consequences are bad already (a weaker pound delights exporters, but hits consumers via higher costs of food, fuel and imports - oh, and holidays).

The broader problem, I suspect, is that people who do not have much in terms of assets, education, prospects and skills have been told for some years by political snake-oil salesmen that immigration and the EU are the cause of their woes.

No prospective government can act quickly on either field, and even if they could, it will not boost the economy, provide more low-skilled, well-paid jobs, or build more houses.

That means these people who have been sold a bogus story will be disappointed.

And they have been encouraged to be angry.

The consequences of this are unlikely to be good for our politics.

And the BoJoShow's comedy value won't distract from their discontent. Boris Johnson's stunningly intellectually dishonest speech this morning won't fool many people. After the campaign he helped lead, self-reinvention as a cosmopolitan global citizen is beyond sophistry: it smacks of pissing down the public's back and telling us it's raining.

We face real, big problems. Climate change, pollution, sustainability, terrorism, security, antimicrobial resistance, corporate tax-dodging: these are not better addressed at the nation state unit level.

And we've just voted to walk from a system that was doing good things in those areas.

There will be a reckoning. It won't be paid by the leaders of the Leave campaigns. It will be paid by the poorest and most vulnerable. And our politics will be further coarsened and weakened as a result.