I don’t want to criticize the outcome of the UK’s EU referendum — first of all I’m not wiser than everyone else, and second in a democracy you always have the right to decide both ways. Freedom absolutely includes the freedom to hurt yourself and do bad decisions (note, I’m explicitly not saying — or even knowing! — which is which!).
What concerns me though, is how the course of political debates at large and this referendum in particular have been going. Real policital debates and consensus finding are the essence of democracy, but they essentially stopped many years ago in the US already; with the two major parties just talking/swearing about each other but not any more with each other, and every little proposal gets ridiculously blown up to a crusade. The EU is of course not exempt from that in general, although for most day-to-day political work it’s much more moderate due to most states having proportional instead of majority voting, which enforces coalitions and thus compromises on an institutional level. But the very same bad dispute style immediately came to surface with the Brexit referendum — the arguments have been highly emotional, misleading, populistic, and were often outright lies, like £50M a day (it’s just a third of that, and the ROI is enormous!), or the visa issue for Turkey. This causes voting to be based on stirred emotions, false information, whoever shouts the loudest, and which politician of the day you really want to give a slap in the face, instead of voting rationally on the actual matter at hand and what the best long-term path is.
But we have a saying in Germany: “Nichts wird so heiß gegessen wie es gekocht wird.”, which translates as “Nothing get eaten as hot as it gets cooked.”. In the end, the EU treaties are all just paper, and as long as there are enough people agreeing the rules have been, and will be bent/ignored/adjusted. And dear UK, you of all people should know this ☺ (SCNR). So while today emotions are high, bank charts look crazy, some colleagues are worrying about their employment in the UK etc., there’s nothing more reliable than the human nature — all off this will eventually be watered down, procrastinated, and re-negotiated during the next two (haha, maybe 10) years.
If this has taught us anything though: this looks like yet another example of bad application of direct democracy. In my opinion representative democracy is the better structure for such utterly complex and rather abstract topics that we can’t in good faith expect the general populus to understand. This isn’t meant to sound derogatory — it’s just a consequence of a highly developed world with an extreme grade of division of work. You don’t propose (I hope!) a referendum about how to build a bridge, airplane turbine, pacemaker, or OS kernel; we educate, train, and pay specialists for that. But for the exact same reason we have professional politicians who have the time to think about/negotiate/understand complex issues like EU treaties, and what their benefits and costs are. That said, direct democracy certainly has its place for issues that you can expect the general populus to have a qualified opinion on: Should we rather build a highway or 10 kindergartens? Do you want both for 3% more taxes? Should smoking be prohibited in public places? So the tricky question is how to tell these apart and who decides that.