It’s actually happened. The results of the June 23 British referendum on membership of the EU have come in and, by 52% to 48%, Britain has voted to leave.
As of this morning, sterling has fallen 10% and over £120 billion has been wiped off the value of the stock market. David Cameron has resigned and, in a push towards making Westminster less elite, his successor is likely to be either Michael Gove or Boris Johnson.
It may be tempting from the outside to wonder how this has happened in the face of overwhelming economic advice, concerns over international security and questions of moral responsibility. It is possible that Britain will be pilloried in international circles and that her people may come to be regarded as representing a xenophobic and self-serving nation that has opened the door to the rise of the right and stoked the embers of instability across a continent.
It is also the case that 16 million people have woken this morning in a country they don’t fully recognise. Huge swathes of people across Britain are shocked and saddened today. They deserve our sympathy too.
In terms of how this might affect the publishing industry, no-one knows for sure. In a survey conduced by The Bookseller, 78% of those questioned were voting to remain in Europe. James Daunt, head of Waterstones, warned that a vote to leave would cost jobs. Anthony Forbes Watson (head of Pan Macmillan), Gordon Wise (President of the Association of Authors Agents), and authors from Ian McEwan to JK Rowling all warned of the stark dangers of Brexit.
Of course, there were dissenting voices from within publishing too, as there clearly were in every sector in a very divided nation.
It is far too early to say what the effect of Brexit will be for authors and publishers, but the elements which will likely be a factor will be the fall of sterling (for print, for rights, for royalties and revenue); what changes, if any, there might be to VAT both within the UK and by virtue of what trade negotiations are made overseas; and whether the economy itself can avoid a recession. We have all seen too recently the knock-on effects that this would bring.
From our perspective, it is just a sad day, in which the world got a little colder and nations were pushed further apart. Our thoughts are with all of those who tried.