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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > August 2016 > Welcome to New Britain

Welcome to New Britain

The referendum was the start of a national re-alignment of British politics

Brexit: Not a done deal


The EU referendum has caused the biggest upheaval in British politics for a generation and its outcome is far from settled. In the following pages, Prospect’s writers examine the consequences of the result.

Rachel Sylvester explores the political turmoil caused by the vote, while David Goodhart investigates the effect of immigration on the outcome. Anatole Kaletsky argues that the UK could still remain in the EU and raises the possibility of a second vote on withdrawal. Anand Menon looks at the competing interests of EU member states and asks what their priorities will be when negotiating with Britain, while Peter Mandelson warns that without reform the EU might struggle to fight off a populist uprising. Jay Elwes and Roger Scruton argue that the referendum started a period of self-reflection that has caused us to question who we are as a nation.

If all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players, then politics right now is a bizarre piece of avantgarde theatre—surreal, confusing and unpredictable, with the ending still unwritten. One Conservative minister said: “It feels like when you are at a play and the lights go down. People in black T-shirts come in and start quietly moving the furniture around. Then the lights come up and you see what has happened. The set is being re-arranged around us in the dark and we still have no idea where everything is going to end up.”

After a dramatic first act, in which the British public voted to leave the European Union, both main parties and Ukip are effectively leaderless. Jean-Paul Sartre’s line “Hell is other people”— which comes, appropriately enough, from the play No Exit—could be a slogan for politics right now. The Prime Minister has resigned, and the Leader of the Opposition has lost the support of his MPs, while Boris Johnson has gone from frontrunner to succeed David Cameron to has-been. Nigel Farage has stepped down as Ukip leader, declaring that now he has got his country back he wants his life back. Meanwhile, out in the real world, sterling has slumped, the markets are jittery, business investment has slowed sharply and there has been an increase in racist attacks. In a way that is deeply unsettling for all at Westminster, Britain appears to be divided: geographically, socially, culturally and by age. Peter Hennessy, the historian and veteran Whitehall-watcher said: “The referendum was like a lightning flash which illuminated a landscape that had long been changing. The country is fragmenting and I fear a fuse has been lit under the Union too.” In his view, the UK’s global role has also been shaken to its core. “From being a stabilising country in the world we have become a destabilising one,” he said. “The two major political parties are eating themselves, with all the nervous energy going inwards. I have never known quite so many dials that need resetting.”

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In Prospect’s August issue: Rachel Sylvester argues that the EU referendum has started a re-alignment of British politics while Roger Scruton and Jay Elwes say that it has thrown Britain into a bout of self-examination with the fundamental question of who we are as a nation at its centre. In addition, Peter Mandelson says without reform the EU could fall victim to a populist uprising. Also in this issue: Philip Ball explores quantum entanglement, George Magnus looks at the political situation in Brazil ahead of the Olympics and Adam Mars-Jones unpicks the work of Steven Spielberg. James Cusick looks at the impact of the Chilcot report and Kathy Lette explains what the world would be like if she was in charge.