On Monday morning, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he’d be resigning on Wednesday, with Home Secretary Theresa May poised to take over as the next prime minister. At the end of his address, Cameron hummed to himself a little — and it’s the most hilarious, British thing ever:
Wow, Cameron announces his resignation as prime minister, then walks back inside *singing* while still mic'd: pic.twitter.com/wb4adNcCnk— (((Yair Rosenberg))) (@Yair_Rosenberg) July 11, 2016
“Dooo dooo do do. ... Right. Good."
It might be surprising that a leader is super thrilled about leaving his job. One reason why, though, is that being the UK prime minister right now is an absolutely awful job, as a result of the Brexit referendum. As this neat Venn diagram (courtesy of Twitter user Quantian) illustrates, there are only three options available to the UK after the Brexit vote. All of them are terrible, and Cameron is probably thankful not to have to choose among them:
Our team of top Morskiologists at Quantian Capital have been working nonstop for days to produce this diagram: pic.twitter.com/ehfBy1BjCc— Quantian (@quantian1) July 3, 2016
1) "Clean break": In this scenario, the UK just leaves the EU without negotiating any sort of alternative arrangements in place. This option could be disruptive for many EU citizens and businesses, but EU leaders wouldn’t have any way to stop it. And Brexit supporters in the UK would find it acceptable.
The problem: Just quitting would trigger a severe recession in the UK, as the British economy depends on free access to the European common market. Forty-four percent of British exports go to the EU, and the UK financial sector depends on free movement of capital between Britain and Europe. No British leader would knowingly crash the UK economy, so neither Cameron nor May would agree to a "clean break." (There is a chance one could be forced into it, however. If Britain triggers Article 50, a clean break automatically happens in two years absent an exit deal between the UK and EU.)
2) "EEA + deal": In this scenario, the UK negotiates a deal with the EU, which would allow it to remain in the EEA but would exempt it from other EU rules — most notably, free migration rules — that Brexit supporters hate. Indeed, something like this is what Cameron’s successor May is angling for.
The problem: EU leaders seem unlikely to agree to this. They don’t want to reward Britain’s vote with favorable exit terms, for fear that voters in other countries (like Greece, France, or the Netherlands) will take this as a sign that they could get a similar deal. So while this solution would work for British voters and leaders, it’s unacceptable to European leaders.
3) "Annul vote": In this scenario, British leaders call backsies on the referendum results and simply refuse to ever submit Article 50 notification. This would prevent the UK leadership from owning the disastrous economic consequences of Brexit, and European leaders would celebrate it as a step away from the brink.
The problem: "Leave" supporters in the UK would feel betrayed and very, very angry — and even some "Remain" supporters might see it as undemocratic. The political backlash against a UK prime minister who calls "Bracksies" could be immense.
So every option available to the UK leadership right now is either politically unviable or economically disastrous. That’s probably why Cameron is so chipper about being out of a job.
Oh, and good luck, Prime Minister May.