'God help our country'

The former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, captured the moment in four words after the BBC declared victory for the Leave campaign in Britain's EU referendum:

God help our country.

I could try to soften Ashdown's reaction or cloak it in academic analysis. I won't.

The United Kingdom is already reaping the whirlwind of its decision. The pound sterling fell 11% in less than seven hours, reaching its lowest level against the US dollar since 1985. With Scotland voting by a large margin to remain in the EU, the Scottish Nationalist Party has signalled that the quest for independence from the UK will be renewed.

Energy Minister Angela Leadsom, a leading Brexit campaigner, responded to the signals with her own two words, reminiscent of the days of World War II: ‘Keep calm.’

But Leadsom did not offer any plan of action beyond those words. Nor did Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party who, like Boris Johnson, lifted his words from a US movie, ‘This is our Independence Day.’

Voters in the UK or, to be precise, England and Wales, largely chose on the basis of emotion rather than reality. They kicked out at ‘Europe’ despite near-unanimous projections, soon to be borne out, of a significant fall in GDP relative to Britain's position if it remained in the EU. They took on the scare language of immigration, despite the experience of net benefit, economic as well as social, from EU immigrants to the UK.

But reality does not remain defeated. Having chosen isolation in a world of global economics and politics, the UK's economic problems will quickly take over the headlines. And so will the prospect that the Kingdom is not long to remain "United".

Professor Scott Lucas