I'm in Canada right now, so we had to watch the carnage unfold in real time on a BBC live stream. As soon as Newcastle reported in with its weak Remain results, the pit of my stomach began to sink and things never recovered.
The United Kingdom has made what historians will refer to as the greatest and last mistake in its long history. Scotland and Northern Ireland are already talking about leaving the UK to join the EU. The pound has dropped to the lowest point in 31 years and France has now surpassed them as the world's 5th largest economy. They've lost more money in a few hours than they contributed to the EU in 43 years.
I woke this morning to a sense of surreal dread. One thing is certain: the UK is undone. The only question that concerns me is how much of their self-destructive behaviour will rub off on the rest of us.
The UK economy has already started to contract. Major banking institutions are likely to follow through with their promise to relocate to Dublin and Frankfurt. That will undoubtedly increase unemployment, driving the country further into recession. For Christina and I, there are dangerous times ahead.
The real danger though is how far this madness will spread. Given the likelihood of a Scottish (and potentially Northern Irish) exit from the UK, England must be considered lost, but what of the rest of Europe? I can only see this going one of three ways:
The worst possible scenario for all involved would be if the EU is so fearful of instability that it caves to the UK's demands to (a) remain part of the European Economic Area (single market) while (b) not being beholden to the four freedoms. For the non Europeans, this would mean that the UK would have free trade with EU nations but not have to allow free movement of people, goods, etc. They might even try to get away with not paying into the EU at all.
This would be catastrophic as it would signal to the other EU nations that they too could have all of the benefits of the EU without the responsibility. It would embolden the weak separatist voices in France, Norway, Greece, and the Netherlands and spur similar moves to exit as well. It would effectively end the European Union.
Remain Part of the EEA
This is the most likely (however ironic) outcome. The UK would negotiate a Norway-like deal wherein they remain part of the EEA while still being responsible for the four freedoms. Effectively, this would mean that the UK would keep all of the responsibilities the Leave campaign said they wanted no part of, (free movement, financial contributions) but give up its right to have any say in how those responsibilities are determined. As a bonus, Nigel Farage's party would no longer have any seats in the European Parliament.
This isn't as dangerous as the "special status" option above, but it runs the risk of separatist parties declaring this a victory (this is post-factual democracy after all). If other nations follow suit, this could have crippling effects on the EU.
Out in the Cold
In this scenario, the EU recognises this for the opportunity that it is and cuts the UK loose. Over the following years, as the rest of Europe watches the UK economy wither, and the country fracture from Great Britain into Little England, the UK becomes a cautionary tale for would-be separatists: "Leave the EU, are you nuts? Don't you remember what it was like for the English?"
"Better together" would no longer be a campaign slogan but a statement of fact and it would embolden Europe as a Union.
The obstructionist English voice in the European project would disappear completely, allowing for the agenda of an ever closer union to progress. Dreams like a fiscal union and a unified military would become more feasible.
I tweeted about this last night and it was not appreciated by a couple of my followers, but I stand by it. The "out in the cold" option is the best case for Europe, the worst for the UK -- but they've made their bed. The European Union is the single most ambitious project humanity has ever undertaken and if it's going to survive, it has to cut the UK loose. They've voted to leave, let them serve as an example of just what leaving means.
I say this of course as someone who lives in the UK. Christina has her job at Cambridge, so we're stuck there for at least a year, but when that's finished, we'll be looking to return to Europe -- this in itself is a risk, as it means waiting an entire year while anyone with a degree of mobility works to get out of the UK.
I don't know what we're going to do when Christina's contract is up. We want to move back to the Netherlands, but by then the EU will likely be awash in unilingual anglophones with marketable skills. This could be Very Bad for us.
But if it's good for the EU, we're ok with it.