June 23rd marked the seventh anniversary of the infamous narrow vote for what Johnson called ‘freedom day’. But Johnson, indeed, all leading zealots have proved remarkably reluctant to mention let alone celebrate it. Their silence speaks volumes. Not even the most rabid zealots describe Brexit as a success; indeed, the consensus is that it is increasingly being revealed as a very costly mistake. Even Farage described it as a failure, blaming the government while disingenuously overlooking the fact that had his idea of a WTO arrangement with the EU prevailed matters would be a lot worse. I doubt Farage and most leading Brexiteers ever looked beyond the single market’s free movement to understand the real costs of Brexit. Far from the promised prosperity, the country is in the grip of a cost-of-living crisis, food prices are at record levels, business investment is faltering and trade with the EU has fallen. Post-Brexit red tape is strangling thousands of small businesses and net migration now stands at 606,000 – almost twice its level in 2015 – and beyond economics and migration the UK is descending into ignominious isolation on the world stage.
The government seeks to deflect blame for this state of affairs to Covid and the Ukraine war, but they are not responsible for the UK’s stubbornly high inflation and lacklustre trade when compared with comparable countries. In all government comment, a deafening silence has descended on a major reason for the UK’s poor performance; namely, Brexit. Since the referendum, sterling’s effective exchange rate has lost 15 per cent of its value – implying an 18 per cent rise in the prices of imports including food. The interruption to pan-EU supply chains, the loss of business investments and the discouragement of EU workers on which so many British businesses depended, have all added to inflationary pressures. Given these causes, relying on the Bank of England raising interest rates to reduce inflation is going to be long and painful and the underlying problems will remain.
These facts cannot be dismissed as ‘remoaning’. They are the lived experience for Britons, including many who voted leave. YouGov’s recently reported that 62 per cent now say Brexit has been ‘more of a failure’ against 9 per cent for ‘more of a success.’ Some 56 per cent now consider it was wrong to leave the EU against 31 per cent who said it was right. The Tories have only themselves to blame for this debacle and will almost certainly pay a heavy price at next year’s election. Sunak, always a more genuine Brexiter than the disgraced Johnson now realises the case for a closer relationship with the EU is overwhelming but is paralysed by his inability or unwillingness to admit his error. Even worst, Starmer’s focus on winning power prevents him from spelling out to ‘red wall’ voters the costs of their Brexit vote.
Starmer recently wrote in the unabashed Eurosceptic Daily Express that Britain’s future is outside the EU. Yet, outside the EU the UK will fall behind the quality of life enjoyed by our erstwhile European partners. Apart from the economic costs, Briton’s now queue at airports and ports, their children are denied the educational benefits of exchange schemes and those who own property in the EU are now severely limited in how much time they can spend there. As long as Starmer eschews the benefits of the single market, his hope of rekindling decent economic growth and thereby prosperity is a fantasy. In a recent report the Resolution Foundation spelt out why outside the single market the UK can only look forward to the atrophy of its advanced industrial sectors, to be replaced by lower-paying jobs. This is because the single market will continue to deepen, while actively using its own regulatory heft and sheer market size to encourage the onshoring of supply chains to which the UK now has reduced access. This state of affairs will not be addressed with a few tweaks to the disastrous Johnson-Frost deal; nothing less than its reversal will be necessary if Labour is to stand any hope of achieving its ambitious target of securing the highest sustained growth in the G7.
Brexit has also been a disaster for the Tory party. It has sparked an increasingly bitter civil war, driven four and almost certainly five prime misters from office and – as revealed by the Covid inquiry – distracted the government from more effectively dealing with the pandemic resulting in poorer people in the UK e.g., in Red wall constituencies, being been hit hardest by the virus. Sunak’s uphill attempts to resurrect the integrity and authority of the office of prime minister is under constant threat from the intemperate disloyalty of Tory zealots. This chaos reflects the second-rate abilities of Tory zealots and the fact that their route to power was based on a disregard for integrity and honesty. Brexit and Johnson’s premiership were based on lies. Tory MPs, well aware that Johnson’s sociopathic narcissistic tendencies made him chronically unsuited for high office, were so enmeshed in the Brexit lies they elevated him to No 10 all the same.
Many MPs, if not yet the septuagenarian Tory membership, are waking up to the damage Brexit has done to the qualities it once espoused for those seeking high office and parliamentary democracy. It has morphed into a populist English nationalist Party ensnared by Brexit. The country is crying out for change and the combination of Johnson’s fall and the steady shift in public opinion has opened the door for a new government to purposely reappraise Brexit. In seven years, the outlook for the UK has not changed as promised by the zealots. The cost-of-living crisis, labour shortages, the war in Ukraine and the challenges of climate change have strengthened the case for closer integration and responsible British politicians must now be honest and feed into public discussion the realities of Brexit. The sooner they do so the sooner the country can take back control and set about reversing this Brexit nightmare.