Last night at City Airport, it looked a bit like a refugee camp at the border to freedom. The airport was overcrowded, with no room to sit and hardly space to stand. There were long lines for tables in the few restaurants, and huddled masses everywhere. Everyone was trying to get out – the right reaction but a bit premature in my opinion.
The day before, Britain's voters had decided to leave the EU in a nationwide referendum. Though it took counting until 7 the next morning until the final result was announced, the outcome was clear much earlier. I went to bed at three when the gap towards Leave kept increasing. A few hours later when I woke up, nearly a million and a half more people had voted to leave the EU than to remain in it. There was no arguing with that, and the consequences are obvious, but beyond the surface, the situation is more complex.
A number of very clear divides go through what is still one country and increasingly unbefittingly called the United Kingdom. England voted by 55 to 45 to leave the EU and got its will. Scotland wanted to remain by 62 to 38 and failed. The referendum on Scottish independence a few years back was narrowly lost, in part because of the unresolved question of whether Scotland might have to leave the EU if it leaves the UK. If another referendum were drawn up now, the outcome would likely be different because leaving the UK would present a clear path for Scotland to return to the EU.
London, whose votes I didn't include in the numbers shown for England in the previous paragraph, would have preferred to stay in the EU, by 60 to 40. The BBC points out that seven of the ten areas most wanting to remain were in London. I've always argued that London would be better off outside England. This is now truer than ever, but I don't think a serious independence movement will develop there.
As I drove down to City Airport in the afternoon, I contemplated the irony that the campaign to leave was led by the person who was Mayor of London for eight years. Throughout this time, he gave the impression of deeply caring about this city, and was largely liked in return. In the morning after the referendum, he was booed by angry crowds as he left his home, but London will suffer much more.
Boris Johnson doesn't care, of course. He hitched onto the Leave campaign to pursue his own agenda. I used to see in him a harmless clown, but my eyes have now been opened. He is the most devious, mendacious and megalomaniac politician in the UK. If imagining him as Prime Minister doesn't make you shiver, envision summits with President Trump. The lunacy of it!
When I returned the rental, a middle-aged man with a sweaty shirt and a harried look tried to secure a car for the weekend. Avis had run out and so had Europcar and Hertz. The man was being sent to somewhere near Birmingham with hopes but no promise. There were no cars anywhere closer. "Busy weekend?" I asked the woman behind the counter. "Everyone's leaving?" I was proud of my joke until I entered the airport.