IT IS HARD TO BELIEVE five years have passed since we voted to leave the EU. Five years of some of the most volatile politics and economics in our lives.
There have been three phases to this tumultuous rollercoaster of a story. The first of Mrs. May seeking secretly to keep us in the EU’s Customs Union. The second of her ejection and Boris Johnson’s promise to Get Brexit Done. And the third of the delivery of his Brexit in the teeth of a pandemic.
Theresa May has a great deal for which she must answer. Her biggest act of harm to the UK was her repeated mistruth that she preferred no-deal to a bad deal. She never had any intention of no-dealing. Indeed, neither did Boris Johnson. Both of them played that game to charm the Brexit voting electorate. Some people might have bought into it, but most damagingly the EU did not .In reality both May & Johnson were petrified of failing to get a deal. And in their fear was born manifold ills for our country.
In her pursuit of close alignment, Mrs. May gave into the false narrative that there can be no customs border on the island of Ireland. It suited her to do so because it allowed her to justify all of the UK remaining in the EU’s Customs Union (her backstop).She wanted that result. At heart she was and remains a Remainer – and it was her way to Remain while ostensibly Brexiting. We are now facing a constitutional crisis in Northern Ireland very significantly of her making.
To be fair to Mr. Johnson, he picked up a chalice poisoned by her. The negotiating position of the UK with the EU was in tatters and he had no majority in the Commons. His initial period as Premier was as a lame duck. But unlike May, he is a first-class campaigner and a superb political expedient. He managed to get a deal with the EU, one which got rid of the backstop but instead partitioned our country. And whilst he extricated us from May’s desire to remain in the Customs Union, he committed the country to close political and legal alignment via a level playing field and gave up our fishing industry amongst other things.
Such is his ability to campaign, his sleight of hand went unnoticed by the media and electorate not just through the general election but all of last year as well. Even after the Northern Ireland Protocol was implemented and the Trade & Cooperation Agreement signed, the vast majority of Tory Brexiteers remained in denial. Many still are. They just want to see the back of Brexit.
But Brexit will not go away. It keeps coming back to haunt them. There is a reason for this; it has yet to be done. Only once the country has left the EU as one United Kingdom and we have genuinely taken back control of our laws, our borders, our cash and our fish will Brexit end. Where we are now is miles away from that Conservative Party’s own manifesto promise.
It was unlikely that Brexit could ever have been delivered in a binary fashion. We were never going to be in the EU one day and fully out the next. But May’s shenanigans and Johnson’s failure to properly call them out – and address them fully– guaranteed the process of Brexit would go on and on.
What he seems not to have appreciated is the EU seeks not just to punish the UK but to dismember it. Its first limb would be Northern Ireland. Then it will go after Scotland. And while it goes about seeking to capture parts of the UK, it will seek also to punish us economically. Metaphorically, not content with a hanging, they wish to draw and quarter us too.
As we voted for Brexit on 23 June 2016, the EU was busy going to war – against us. It is a political and trade war fought in the media, negotiating rooms and now increasingly in court but its aims are the same as one played out militarily.
There is one way the matter might be accelerated to a proper conclusion. That is if the Prime Minister makes a stand over Northern Ireland. Only if he refuses to allow the EU to continue to annex part of our country can he really bring his dilemmas to a head.
Repudiate the Northern Ireland Protocol and he would put paid to the EU’s malign intent. He would eventually shake them off and deliver the Brexit which he promised; for which he campaigned – and for which we voted.
Photos of the Leave campaign at the forth Bridge and in Bournemouth courtesy of the editor.