News from Nowhere: Going for Broke
Recent opinion polls have shown that a majority of voters would now prefer their country back in the European Union.
At the end of last month, the good people of His Majesty’s deeply disunited kingdom marked the third anniversary of their nation’s official departure from the European Union. It was hardly the great celebration that many might once have anticipated.
Even some of the country’s hardline Brexiteers have started to change their tune. For increasing numbers of devout “Bre-leavers”, the “Brecstasies” which accompanied the outcome of 2016’s “Breferendum” have transformed into the “Bregrets” already felt for years by legions of disappointed “Bremainers” – or “Bremoaners”, as they were once characterized.
Recent opinion polls have shown that a majority of voters would now prefer their country back in the European Union. One survey published at the start of the year showed 65% of Brits in favor of the electorate getting a second chance to vote on EU membership, with less than a quarter opposing a new referendum.
A week into 2023, one poll reported that “skepticism among Tory supporters towards Britain’s departure from the EU is now greater than support for how it is going” – as the traditionally Eurosceptical Daily Telegraph newspaper put it.
A further survey, conducted to mark the Brexit anniversary at the end of last month, showed that the majority of British people now believe that Brexit has damaged “the UK’s economy, public services and place in the world." (Again, the words of the right-wing Telegraph.)
But, not to be outdone by these polls of the general public at large, the remorselessly anti-EU tabloid the Daily Express ran a poll of its own readership. Unsurprisingly, 77% of its readers still supported Brexit.
However, what seemed rather more “Brextraordinary” was that nearly a quarter of its own readers therefore disagreed. It’s difficult to imagine why these people would continue to buy the “Daily Brexpress”, as this profoundly Europhobic rag might better be called. It’s certainly not for the wit or wisdom of its columnists.
It appears that it’s become clear to a growing cadre of former Brexiteers that things haven’t gone well for their old pet project.
The British government has failed to deliver the brilliant international trade agreements it once promised. This was perhaps inevitable. As many had warned in 2016, it’s much easier to get a good deal if you’re offering access to a single market of half a billion consumers than if you’re representing a base for potential sales of about an eighth of that size.
Meanwhile, the end of freedom of movement for European workers has added significant strains upon the UK labor force, with many British workers unwilling to perform a range of essential but poorly paid roles in industry and agriculture.
Heightened barriers to trading with the country’s closest and largest business partner have also had detrimental impacts on enterprises involved in the export or import of materials and goods or the provision of services to European markets.
Inflation and government borrowing are rampant. Workers are striking across key public industries. Productivity has crashed. At the end of last month, the IMF projected that the UK would be the only major nation whose economy would shrink this year.
The Office for Budget Responsibility has estimated that Brexit will in the long term reduce the UK’s industrial productivity by four percent and its international trade by fifteen percent.
Figures published earlier this month showed that the UK economy had experienced zero growth over the final quarter of 2022. The UK Chancellor warned that “we are not out of the woods." Indeed, the clinging tendrils of this stagnant jungle continue to grow around us, stifling the green shoots of recovery and blocking out the light.
Controversies over customs arrangements for the island of Ireland have, as predicted, led to the breakdown of the devolved power-sharing administration in Belfast, while Scotland’s allegiance to Europe has boosted arguments in favor of that nation’s independence from the UK.
And the promised bonfire of Brussels’ rules and regulations has of course proved difficult to achieve and neither as attractive nor as beneficial as it might once have seemed.
In the end, then, it appears that the likes of Boris Johnson might have somewhat misled us back in 2016 as to the panacea offered by our split from the EU. Now, who could have ever imagined such duplicity from honest BoJo and that fine upstanding bunch of folks?
His memory haunts Brexit Britain like a big fat ghost, tireless, unwanted, and unapologetic. He went for broke and that’s where he got us.
Yet, despite the clear disaster of Brexit, England’s mainstream political parties are running shy of any plans to return Britain to the EU. Rishi Sunak had made overtures towards restoring single market connections with Europe, but the libertarian right of his party has made it clear they’d veto anything like that. The Labour Party, cowed by its catastrophic election defeat in 2019, fears that any sentiments that might be considered pro-European would scupper its chances of regaining its traditional support in the north of England. Even the Liberal Democrats, whose proposals to reverse the referendum result saw them trounced at the 2019 polls, aren’t going much further than Mr. Sunak in talking about bolstering continental trading links.
In 2019, Mr. Johnson pledged to “get Brexit done” and he’s certainly achieved that. It’s just not been done in any way well, that’s all. Johnson won his landslide election victory on the basis of that promise, although it’s not now clear whether his supporters have got what they really wanted.
We haven’t seen massive, transformative boosts to investment in our National Health Service. It’s been quite the opposite: Britain’s healthcare system is reeling and on the verge of collapse.
We haven’t had the opportunity to “take back control." On the contrary, the country and its political and economic structures are spinning hopelessly out of control.
At the end of last month, Boris Johnson – with his typically bullish ability to ignore actual facts – declared that Britain should “shrug off all this negativity and gloom-mongering” about Brexit.
Three years ago, Johnson had suggested he’d go all out on the UK’s departure from the EU: that it would be Brexit or bust. In the end, he and his acolytes have managed to achieve both. It’s now decidedly a case of Brexit and bust, as this broke and broken nation faces what’s starting to look like a truly “Brexistential” crisis.