To the victors go the spoils. For the losers? Stickers

Michael Simkins had a novel way of getting people to take an interest in the EU referendum

British Prime Minister David Cameron resigns on the steps of 10 Downing Street (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
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‘May you live in interesting times.” So runs a Chinese curse – and that certainly seemed to be the case here in London after the result of the referendum on EU membership.

In the run-up to polling day, I had spent my evenings campaigning for the Remain camp here in London.

In truth, my work merely extended to handing out “I’m In” stickers to anyone who’d take one to the multitude of commuters pouring out of my local underground station on their way home. There were many takers, although plenty more dismissed my offering with a wave of their hand.

After the result it’s all too easy to reach for threadbare symbolism, but the thing that struck me most profoundly during my hours on the pavement was just how many people seemed unconcerned and unaware of the importance of the occasion.

Headphones stuffed into their ears, they hurried past my outstretched hand, avoiding eye contact, happy in their electronic isolation.

Maybe they’d already made their decision, or perhaps they simply didn’t like the cut of my jib.

Whatever their motives, I’m now haunted by an image of a country that sleepwalked towards the exit door while they listened to Coldplay on their iPhones.

When I went to bed on Thursday night, it seemed that the Remain camp had narrowly edged it. By the time I woke at 5am, Brexit had carried the day. Brexiteers were now celebrating while those heading the Remain campaign looked bewildered and moist-eyed.

In truth, both victors and vanquished appeared almost equally shell-shocked.

By the time I’d finished breakfast the world seemed to be unravelling before my eyes. With the pound plummeting, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, was forced to issue a carefully worded statement announcing how the country would avoid financial meltdown.

At just after 8am, the prime minister announced he was stepping down. And little wonder. If Tony Blair will forever be defined by his decision to take the country to war with Iraq, Mr Cameron will surely now forever be known as the man who took Britain out of Europe. The opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn is also substantially weakened.

By 9am, the mood in the capital was one of bewilderment and disbelief.

When I ventured into work, few travellers still had headphones on.

Now they peered anxiously at their Twitter feeds, trying to keep pace with the tumultuous events unfolding in the streets and buildings a few metres above their heads.

And was it my imagination or were these sheepish commuters avoiding the eyes of foreigners and tourists as they boarded the train?

So what now? With Scotland having voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, a second referendum on Scottish independence now seems certain. In which case, the break-up of the UK seems likely to happen. Rarely has the dismissive epithet, “Little Englander”, sounded with greater resonance.

It was Mark Twain who wrote: “Tragedy plus time equals comedy.”

One day, Great Britain – or what’s left of it by the time the dust has settled – may well look back and smile at the events of the last few hours. I hope so. But I wouldn’t want to bet on it.

Michael Simkins is an actor and writer in London

On Twitter: @michael_simkins