When I suggested after the vote a possible way that Brexit might be avoided, I was conscious that I might simply be in denial. I have subsequently been encouraged by others suggesting similar things - first Jolyon Maugham, then Nick Pearce and Gideon Rachman in the FT - but of course they may also be in denial. If you ask a Conservative or Labour politician right now they will say that the referendum result must be respected: to do otherwise appears to disrespect voters. Equally European politicians want to make it clear as quickly as possible that there will be no extra concessions to avoid encouraging other exit movements.
That is why delaying Article 50 for at least a month or two is so important. It allows the immediate passion of the vote to die down, and its immediate economic consequences to sink in. Hopefully that will also discourage other EU countries from going down the same route. By September it will also become obvious to people in the UK that as part of bargaining with the EU it might be a good idea to keep delaying implementing Article 50, and this may also encourage European governments to think about concessions. Maybe.
I don’t think Boris Johnson would have any problems going down that path, once he was elected leader. (In the meantime he will continue to imagine we can have the impossible, because it allows him to get the votes of MPs in his party who are hardline Leavers.) But what about Labour - assuming it still exists of course. Will it worry about losing its ‘heartlands’, and so be tempted to insist that the referendum means free movement is no longer an option?
I think this would be a disastrous political error. Whatever they might propose in the form of controlling EU immigration, they will be outdone by UKIP. That part of the heartlands that really dislikes foreigners are lost to Labour and will not return. (Of course many Conservative voters share similar views.) But if Labour appear to block free movement (and therefore continued EU membership) they will lose a large section of the electorate who voted to Remain. (Remember most Labour voters did vote Remain.) If Labour rejects free movement in any substantive sense, and therefore denies the possibility of remaining, many of these voters will go to the LibDems or elsewhere.
The best Labour can hope for, when it comes to the heartlands, is to capture the many voters who dislike immigration not for itself, but because of what they believe it creates: more competition for public services, and worse working conditions. (For the majority of Leavers immigration is a fear rather than a direct experience.) Labour can target those voters in two ways: by promising more money for public services across the board, but also by proposing a substantial and very visible scheme by which money follows people.
This is also a critical point for anyone aspiring to be Labour leader. Labour heartlands are now the cosmopolitan cities like London, Manchester and Bristol. They see the personal benefits of migration and being part of the EU. They have no problem with, and many happily embrace, policies that divert more resources to public services and the lower paid. But they are highly mobile in the political as well as the geographical sense. If a Labour leader tries to appeal to both this group and voters that want above all else to control EU migration by leaving the EU, then they will fail.