It's now about twenty-four hours since it became clear that the UK had voted to leave the EU in our momentous referendum. I can tell you exactly what I was doing when the Sunderland result was announced: I was drying up my dishes in the kitchen, preparing to go to bed, listening to the TV in the adjoining room. The returning officer read out the numbers and the whoops went up from the Leave supporters; the returning officer's voice cracked slightly, she paused, then she read the Leave number out again just to be clear. It was obvious at that very nanosecond that that would be the "clip" of the night, to be repeated on broadcasts and documentaries for generations.
There has been profound shock in the UK since that moment; and that should not come as a surprise: effectively the government, indeed the system of government, has been overthrown. This was not a simple election, but a revolution.
I have been reading Robert Tombs' excellent The English and their History; irrespective of this week's events, I can highly recommend this history. I am currently at roughly the Boston tea party, the Declaration of Independence and the build-up to the war between Britain and its Atlantic colonies. But it is the parallel with the 1688 invasion which jumps out at me. In the "Glorious Revolution" England was invaded by a conqueror. We always like to think that we have not succumbed to invasion since 1066, but that is not right. William's forces invaded and took control of the government of England. Invited by various parliamentarians, yes; accepted by many, yes; but an invasion nonetheless. A coup; a resetting.
It is no wonder that David Cameron thought he ought to resign immediately after the referendum result was known. Effectively the referendum has toppled the constitutional order which has been built up in the UK over the last forty years or so. It has re-opened that longstanding British discussion which goes back to the days of the witan. Of course, this is 2016 not 1066 or 1688 or 1776 or even 1940. But it is no wonder that the British were in a state of shock yesterday: at about 5am on Friday 24th June 2016 not only was the government toppled, but our system of government was toppled.
In a previous era there would, no doubt, have been meetings and pamphlets and even riots. Luckily, in this peaceful democratic interconnected world, people turned to social media and broadcast debates. Many do not accept the result of the referendum, but it is hard to ignore that a majority of voters, in an election taken part in by a huge proportion of the electorate, after a long and well-rehearsed debate, decided to trash the status quo.
If Thursday was a coup, it was a very representative coup. This was not a well-armed faction seizing control. This was not a liberation from an occupying force, nor the takeover by one.
I argued in the run-up to the referendum that to vote to Leave was a revolutionary act, because to do so was to overturn the decisions that have been made, within the established constitution, by elected Parliament after elected Parliament. However, I also supported the holding of the referendum, because it was so obvious that many people felt frustrated by the lack of opportunity to have their views listened to on this topic. People often refer back to Maastricht, but while that was probably the treaty which fundamentally changed our relationship with our European neighbours, I think it was the way in which the Lisbon Treaty was ratified which set us on this course. It was the failure to hold the promised referendum on the "EU Constitution", which later so obviously became the Lisbon Treaty, which put so many people's backs up. We are now the third country to reject that Constitution.
It is not my intention to discuss the rights and wrongs of the Lisbon Treaty/EU Constitution. We are past that now. I am interested in the British limbo which we now find ourselves in. We seem to have voted to detach ourselves from the entire EU machine, but many were already suggesting beforehand that we may be able to cut ourselves loose from some without cutting ourselves loose from all.
On Newsnight last night Daniel Hannan suggested that there might be support for going back to a system more like the one the UK initially signed up for - he was especially talking about the system whereby there was a right to go and work in another Common Market country, without there being a common European citizenship or general right to live as a national in any member state. Jonathan Powell convincingly argued that the government has absolutely no mandate to negotiate anything new until there has been a general election.
We are not used to this. We have not done this very often in our long history, and we have not done it for a very long time. We have not erected guillotines, not a single shot has been fired. The pound and the stock-market wobbled, but the sky did not fall in. But be in no doubt at all: we just tore up the rulebook. We will be discussing this for a very long time.