European Union and Union flags during a protest against Brexit outside of the Houses of Parliament in central London. / © Daniel Leal-Olivas / AFP
At midnight it will be precisely 3 years since the UK departed the European Union, ending 47 years of partnership and beginning an unpredictable era of redirection and uncertainty.
The United Kingdom has, like most of the world, gone through a few turbulent years. A global pandemic hit the world, just as the country left the EU.
Brexit, self-inflicted, keeps the country in limbo and continues to cause pain as loose ends are yet to be addressed, as the global stage is being reshaped geopolitically. Britain is finding itself alone, wondering why: why the self-sabotage?
Some of Brexit’s advocates now recognise that it has failed. Alex Hickman, a business adviser to the government of Boris Johnson, recently wrote: “Those of us who backed Leave must acknowledge that Brexit isn’t working… It is not clear to most people what Brexit is actually for.”
Brexit is now approved by only 32% of UK citizens, according to a recent YouGov poll for the Times. Among those who had voted in favour of leaving in 2016, 20% now consider that they made the wrong decision.
Britain's exit from the EU has proven fatal to the leadership of the Conservative party— as seen in the successive resignations of David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, all of whom over-promised success, but one way or another failed to deliver.
For Cameron and May, it was Brexit itself. For Johnson and Truss, it was dealing with the aftermath in combination with other factors (the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, inflation, supply chain disruptions etc.).
'£1 trillion annual exports by 2020' UK Prime Minister David Cameron promised in 2012. Boris Johnson then extended the deadline to 2030. Now, the UK is set to achieve this target only by 2035.
Internal forecasts underline the country has found it challenging to meet predictions made by "Brexiters” when the UK exited the European Union in 2020.
Brexit is now seen as a mistake which worsened the status quo. Neither is the British economy doing better nor are they happier in terms of the issue of immigration, in fact they’ve had to continue negotiating with France over strengthening crossings in the English channel.
Britain was faced with inflated energy bills and food and fuel shortages even before the war in Ukraine put further pressure on global supply chains.
The British government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was forced to approve giving thousands willing migrants the right to work as urgent temporary workers to cope.
Now, in the midst of a polycrisis, Rishi Sunak attempts to deal with inflation, strikes, and the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation.
But how long will he last? The next general election will take place in 2024. In January, every single poll has put labour ahead, with between a 14% and 29% lead.
If we were to trust the polls, Keir Starmer and his renewed Labour is heading for a sweeping victory.
And he too, will have to contend with the issue of Brexit, and the mess that consecutive Conservative governments have created.
The protocol for Ireland and Northern Ireland is still being negotiated and it will be up to the next government, most likely, to avoid the creation of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
One way to guarantee that, would be for the UK to rejoin the European Union. Polls show the majority of the public would like to rejoin. But there’s little chance of that happening in the near future.
And even if that were to happen, it wouldn’t be an overnight re-entry as was the exit.
Andrew Rawnsley, Chief Political Commentator of the Observer wrote in a recent opinion piece: “The sad and cruel truth is that strategic blunders as colossal as Brexit can’t be corrected easily or swiftly. Some mistakes have to be paid for over many years. This, alas, is the UK’s fate. Not a golden age, but ages of regret”.
As our world continues to shrink, and forces of nature continue to humble us, whoever thought an island makes you a world apart, was a fool. Those who convinced others to join them in their madness should feel ashamed.
Growing up, it seemed that our futures would be common. We were excited for the role the UK could and would play in our shared European future. Now we must live with the certainty that our futures are intertwined but misaligned.
Brexit will have never been a good idea, nor a success, the UK and Europe must just learn to live with it, as long as we remain divorced, but geographic and economic roommates.