The matter is decided – Britain is leaving. So what happens now?

David Cameron announces his resignation after Britain voted to leave the European Union (Photo: PA)

Like a lot of people, I went to bed last night thinking that Remain would win, and win by a comfortable margin. At 4am, for some reason, I woke up, and decided that it was not worth checking my phone for news – but then changed my mind. After that there was no getting back to sleep.

This magazine has published articles from Brexiteers and from Remainers, both of whom made eloquent cases for their positions. This balanced approach was the entirely right thing to do, as, let us remember, there were good arguments on all sides. There have been a few overheated expressions of opinion, especially in the hothouse that is social media, but many, like this magazine, have striven to keep it civilised. And that is a good thing.

And now one side has won, and the other lost. The matter is decided. Britain will leave the European Union; only the how has to be worked out and that will take some time. No doubt those negotiations will be complex. But let us be clear about one thing: we are leaving the Union, we are not “leaving Europe”. We all love the Old Continent, and will continue to do so.

The decision to leave does come as a shock, given that it flies in the face of all expert advice; but herein lies the catch. The British people have lost their respect for experts (perhaps the financial crisis had something to do with that), and for the received wisdom, and, to a large extent, for their politicians. Moreover, as should have been clear to all, the public was disenchanted with the Union. Once people become disenchanted, it is hard to re-enchant them. Once there was a fair amount of enthusiasm for the Union and its project of European integration: that is now a distant memory. The politicians I heard arguing for Remain never once made the sort of case that one used to hear back in the 1980s. Rather they said: “We know the European Union is not perfect…” That sort of approach is not best designed to win referenda.

What happens now? Never mind the negotiations, the fate of the Prime Minister, the internal party ructions – what are we going to do, we the people?

First of all, we have to realise that Britain must now make its way in the world, so that means a common determination from us all to make this work. National solidarity is called for, and national confidence. This is not a crisis, unless we want it to be one. It can be a huge opportunity. Given our history, I have reasoned hopes it will be.

Second, some people may be feeling a bit bruised this morning. So, let us do our best to soothe them, and to reassure them. It is the future that is important now, our common, shared future, and we need to put the divisions of the past behind us. Our European friends who live in Britain, and those abroad, need to know that friendships that have been important in the past are still important to us. We have evaluated the Union, and found it not fit for purpose, but we still value our friendships. Britain is still Britain, and she looks with affection to her oldest ally Portugal today as much as she did yesterday; I, along with many others, have a fervent admiration for Poland, for Hungary, for Italy, for France and for Germany, and many other places. Nothing is going to change that.

God bless the United Kingdom, and God bless the continent of Europe!