The victory of the Brexiters (those who wanted Britain to quit the European Union) over the Bremainers (those who wanted Britain to remain in the Union) momentarily threw the world into a panic mode.
Just a day after the official figures showed that the Brexiters won by 51.89 per cent to 48.11 per cent, the British pound crashed in value to a level not seen in almost 30 years.
The London Stock Exchange and bourses around the world were also not spared.
In fact one would think that the victory of Brexit amounted to an impending Armageddon, not just for the United Kingdom but for the entire world.
One commentator in fact wrote that the result of the referendum was guaranteed to turn Great Britain into Little Britain.
The run-up to the referendum was characterised by scaremongering by both sides.
Sir John Major, the former Conservative Prime Minister for instance branded the Brexit camp “the grave-diggers of our prosperity” who would have to answer for their “lies”.
Brexiters in turn talked about a disappearing British identity as a result of changing demographics occasioned by immigration.
I believe that beyond the scaremongering by both sides, there are several important observations from the referendum:
One, the remorse and regret that followed the announcement of the outcome reminds one of the aphorism:
“Beware of what you wish for because you may get it.”
We are told that shortly after the verdict Google search for the meaning of European Union in the UK peaked – meaning that people just voted in a classical demonstration of negation being a form of affirmation.
A few days after the result was announced, there were anti-Brexit protests in London, which voted to remain in the EU, with some suggesting that London should simply secede from the UK.
Those who signed the petition for a second referendum numbered over 4 million by June 29.
The petition said:
“We the undersigned call upon HM Government to implement a rule that if the Remain or Leave vote is less than 60% based on a turnout less than 75%, there should be another referendum.”
Another sign of Bregret is that UK officials have not shown any inclination of invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon (signed in 2007), which made provision for countries that want to leave the Union.
Rather there has been increasing emphasis on the advisory nature of the referendum and that it would need to be ratified by Parliament before it could be effectuated.
The crisis of confidence triggered by Brexit had precedence in Denmark.
This was when the Maastricht Treaty (also called Treaty on European Union) was signed in 1992.
At that time various counties held referenda to ratify their countries’ membership.
In Denmark, in the first referendum held on June 2 1992 those who did not want Denmark to be part of the new ambitious political integration agenda of the European Economic Community (as it was then called) won by a slim margin of 50.7 per cent against 49.5 per cent.
After that defeat scaremongering by government officials who had supported the Maastricht Treaty was let loose and a second referendum was held on May 18 1993.
In the second referendum, 56.8 per cent voted in favour of the treaty with the four opt-outs that the government had negotiated as ‘sweeteners’ to the naysayers.
This may be the most likely route for Brexit.
Two, an important lesson from the outcome of the referendum and the remorse that followed is that a referendum, just like any election for political office, is often not about taking the most rational decision, but knowing what is desired by the majority of people.
Voters across the world are largely driven by emotions and sentiments, which is why democracy is often caricatured as ‘mob rule’.
While the main supporters of the Bremain were the so-called ‘thinking classes’ – academics and captains of industry – those who had their way were mostly those concerned about the dilution of British identity by immigration.
We also see in both the Danish nay vote in 1992 and the Bregret that followed Brexit, a version of the ‘iron law of oligarchy’ – the tendency for the dominant elite in any society to have a way of imposing their views of society on others.
The dominant elite lost in the referendum but they are most likely going to win what they canvassed for by other means.
Three, various analyses of how Brexit would affect Africa and Nigeria in particular verge on hysteria.
Several commentators have for instance pointed out that the bilateral trade between Nigeria and the UK – currently worth USD8.3 billion and projected to reach USD25 billion by 2020 – would be negatively affected.