Brexit: desperately seeking optimism

The votes are in, and the result is clear: a slim majority wants to go it alone. As both a Remainer and a firm believer in the imperfect but generally overwhelmingly positive nature of the EU, this feels like a punch to the chest. Europe's slide to the Right continues, so this is hardly a surprise, but it's still painful when it comes for you where you live.

Cameron has already announced his resignation. The question is, now what? I've been thinking about it, and there are a few scenarios which I can envisage. Some of them aren't as bad as it feels right now. As far as I can see, it comes down to who succeeds Cameron.

Pro-Brexit successor: we leave the EU by 2018

If Cameron names someone like Iain Duncan Smith (unlikely) or even Michael Gove of "Britain has had enough of experts" fame, Article 50 is likely to be invoked sooner rather than later. Two years of negotiation will follow, but driven by a politician from the Brexit camp, it will doubtless end with Britain's departure. I leave it up to better economic minds than myself to make a guess on how that will go, but general consensus from Gove's despised experts — and the pound's freefall last night — suggest fairly dire consequences. Civil liberties will come under full Tory control once again, and if you thought New Labour were bad even with the EU attenuating their plans, just wait to see what a Conservative government with a free hand rolls out.

Pro-EU successor: Britain negotiates a 'better' deal, a second referendum is called

In contrast, a pro-Remain successor like George Osborne would be more inclined to try a last-ditch effort to justify a second referendum. Even Boris Johnson represents a possible renegotiation, as he has repeatedly used the phrase "better deal" in his media appearances. Without significant changes to the UK's deal with the EU, Brexit 2: Electric Boogaloo will have no legitimacy. I use single-quotes around 'better', because for the Left and civil liberties in general, such a deal is almost certain to be inferior. It will doubtless include more British powers at the border, less EU regulation of British business, and more British control over civil liberties. The governmental response to this extra freedom will result in a neoliberal swing to the Right, but a less severe one than a full-blown Brexit.

But will a better deal actually change the referendum result if we hold another? It's quite possible. Seeing the reaction today from Brexit voters who saw their vote as a protest against mainstream politics rather than really being about the EU, a renegotiated membership is a representation of victory. The point was made. With any luck, such voters represent the 4% or more of the country which needs to change direction at a second referendum. Combined with the pound's nosedive last night and Farage's retraction of his £350M NHS claims this morning, things that older voters (who are more likely to be pro-Brexit) are more concerned about, minds may well change.

I'll say this, though — when someone like Boris Johnson or George Osborne running the country is the best-case scenario, you know things are dire. At times like this, I like to turn to the wisdom of Gun Show.