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This is a beginning, not an ending

The first thing to remember, as you listen to pundits on the radio and telly working themselves into a lather of existential horror, is that this is not necessarily the end of Britain’s relationship with the EU. It’s more like a starting point for negotiations.

The Channel Tunnel didn’t cave in last night. The British population just said that they don’t want to be part of the EU in its current format.

It was a good turnout. And it’s a victory for “leave”, no question about it – I’m not downplaying it for a minute. But it’s a narrow victory – 52/48.

If this had happened a week and a half ago, when all the polls were showing “leave” to win, the reports would be “Leave has won – but only just”, as opposed to “OMG Leave has won, the world is doomed”. The market and the assembled punditry just got ahead of themselves.

And before anything can happen, someone (clearly not David Cameron now) has to invoke Article 50, which is how a nation leaves the EU. That almost certainly involves a vote by our politicians.

After that, even if they invoke Article 50, you have at least two years in which everything stays pretty much the same as it is now.

I suppose my point is this: don’t expect parliament or Europe to jump to it and just get on with leaving, simply because the voters have asked for it.

Politics is the art of fudge. And even this result leaves plenty of room for fudge.

How that fudge will be conducted will start to become clearer throughout the days to come. Don’t be surprised if there’s a lot of tough talk from Europe at first.

But I still wouldn’t be astonished to see a second referendum being held at some point. The EU does have form on that front.

And you have to remember – this is an existential issue for the EU too. It’s pretty clear from polling that a sizeable minority (or maybe it’s a majority, given how unreliable the polls seem to be) of the population in pretty much every EU country is keen to leave.

If Britain is allowed to go ahead, then anti-EU parties will do well everywhere. People talk about “punishing” Britain pour encourager les autres. But believe me, the results of said punishment will not become apparent in time, and the EU knows it.

While Britain is negotiating its way out over the next two years, that gives plenty of time for unpredictable elections, referendums, campaigns and the rest of it to happen in other EU nations.

If the EU wants to survive, it has to find a way to make this work now. It doesn’t have the luxury of time, or of giving Britain a long, drawn-out kicking