Brexit night has fallen and it just wouldn’t be British not to stoically declare that I can’t see much good coming of it, but I suppose we’d better try to muddle through. At this point, with the true implications of departing the European Union still unknown, I find myself feeling more puzzled than alarmed. Does anyone really know what is going to happen next? Will it be weird living in a quite large Hackney household in which, suddenly, only one of its members will continue to be a European citizen, by virtue of having an Irish passport since her birth?
I do not expect calamity to crush the capital or even Stockport overnight, but I do have a hunch that the withdrawal honeymoon might be over pretty soon. Greater London, of course, voted by 60 per cent to 40 to Remain, but 40 per cent is a big minority and it seems fair to assume those fellow Londoners will hope their lives are going to get better without “Brussels on our backs” rather than worse. Maybe just feeling that way will be enough.
How apprehensive for them is it apt to be? Those Londoners who picked Leave did so for an array of reasons, only some of which might be thought sinister. That said, there are people in this city, just as there are elsewhere in the UK, who honestly believe that as soon as Brexit is “done”, all the apples will be Cox’s orange pippins, all the Muslims will be sent “home” – led, of course, by Sadiq Khan – and Britain will return to a blissful, tranquil, simple normality that’s been disastrously and repeatedly betrayed since even before Winston Churchill died. Some of them might end up extremely disappointed. Let us hope things do not turn too ugly.
Meanwhile, we can probably expect the nation’s economy to creak – that “scratchy period”, theorised by Boris Johnson when he was London Mayor – and that, just as during the world financial crisis 12 years ago, London’s famously resilient economy will take the strain.
The irony that Remain City, with its polyglot clamour and “metropolitan elite” and all the other things poor old Nigel Farage can’t abide, may become still more essential to Leave Nation as a provider of jobs and exporter of taxes, seems unlikely to be widely appreciated let alone ruefully reflected on. Perhaps, though, it won’t escape the present occupant of Number 10 Downing Street, who flew the Londonist flag with such gusto when he was boss of City Hall. Surely he knows as well anyone that when he used to proclaim that if London does well the whole country does well too, he spoke the truth. Surely he also knows that “levelling up” Britain is simply not compatible with doing London down, at least the ways things are for now.
Many of those for whom 11:00 pm on 31 January 2020 will forever be the start of taking back control of whatever they feel they’ve been deprived of all this time might not appreciate, as the Prime Minister might, that the West End and the Square Mile, both lying a short walk from the Palace of Westminster, pump out around six per cent of the entire nation’s wealth between them, thanks largely to a load of foreigners.
They will have to make a few adjustments. We Remainers will too. Perhaps my imagination is in overdrive, but I keep seeing signs of a general groping in the gloom for some type of new normal that has yet to fully form. I’m not going to get worked up about BBC London’s decision to use a bulldog as its backdrop to TV news items about Brexit, but it does prompt double takes to see it lurking there behind Riz Lateef. I wish I had been a fly on the wall when the choice of that canine symbol was approved.
And so an era comes to an end in the World City of the 2012 Olympics and new and uneasy one begins. If one thing is for sure it is that although Brexit Britain might not care for London and what it represents to them, it’s going to need its capital city more than ever in the months and years and probably decades to come.
Photograph from Parliament Square by Sheila Fitzsimons.
OnLondon.co.uk is dedicated to providing fair, thorough, anti-populist coverage of London’s politics, development and culture. It depends on donations from readers and would like to pay its freelance contributors better. Can you spare £5 (or more) a month? Follow this link if you would like to help. Thank you.