After Britain voted to leave the EU, this was the best possible outcome.
It will be Christmas in 103 minutes. It will likely be Christmas by the time I finish writing this. For Britain, Christmas came a day early.
Regardless of where one finds themselves on the broader Brexit spectrum, it takes only an ounce of pragmatism to see that today’s trade deal between the United Kingdom and European Union is worth celebrating. If, as I understand it might, celebration seems a little excessive, I hope only that one breathes a little easier over their downsized turkey tomorrow.
The reality is – and has always been since that fateful Thursday over four years ago – this is the best possible outcome. Admittedly, we could have done without the lies and the embellishments and the mystery and the fact it has taken over 1,600 days to get here, but we got here in the end. There are few people more intolerable than those incapable of giving credit where it’s due, but love him or loathe him, Boris and his band of boisterous buffoons got the deal done. Mazel Tov. This was as good as it was ever going to get.
A second referendum was not plausible. I firmly believe Brexit will lead to a number of social and economic repercussions for Britain – namely a reduction in employment opportunities, free movement and global influence – but they pale in comparison to the political and ethical repercussions – namely the abandonment of democracy and a potential civil war – of holding another membership vote before Britain actually left the European Union. The simple truth is Britain already voted to leave. While I have countless gripes with what I believe to have been a fundamentally dishonest Leave campaign, Remain were hardly paragons of virtue, and the issues with the referendum were not nearly serious enough to warrant a whole ‘nother vote altogether. After June 23rd 2016, Britain had to depart the European Union.
The other extreme, a no-deal Brexit, would have been disastrous for everyone involved. We were afforded a glimpse, after the closure of travel to France from Britain earlier this week, of just how catastrophic it all could have been from January 1st, had a deal not been brokered. I imagine the thousands of lorries piling up in Dover would have been just the tip of the iceberg. Whether or not Boris, Frost and co. agree with this prophecy is now immaterial. Their policy of keeping no-deal on the table right until the very end was evidently the correct move. Even if it must have gotten a little hot under the Downing Street desk towards the end, the approach ultimately garnered a deal, and likely forced the EU to concede as much as they ever would.
Because, the fact that I think has not been repeated enough in the British media throughout the entire Brexit process, is that the EU could never agree to a deal for Britain which was better than membership. The very existence of the European Union is dependent upon membership being beneficial. All the Brexiteers, who romped around the country promising Norway and Canada and Australia-esque deals for Britain during the Leave Campaign, were either idiots or liars. For it is a very basic concept – how could the EU ever give Britain the benefits of membership, without any of the compromises?
Complaints that we have been treated harsher than either Canada or Australia are equally nonsensical. Britain is on the EU’s doorstep. As the crow flies, London is just 199 miles from Brussels and 214 from Paris. (Interestingly, London to Belfast is 322 miles. It’s 332 from London to Edinburgh.) The point is: an independent Britain immediately becomes the EU’s biggest, nearest, fiercest rival. The European Union’s future relies on Britain suffering consequences having left the EU.
Many Brexiteers also predicted that Britain’s departure would lead to the EU’s eventual collapse. How different it all may have been, had France elected an EU-sceptic in 2017. But they didn’t. Past hypotheticals are fun, if entirely futile. Emmanuel Macron’s steadfastness, paired with the twilight days of the 21st Century’s own Iron Lady, Angela Merkel, ensured any cracks within the EU never became chasms.
Now the Union which looks most like immediately threatened by the Brexit vote is the United Kingdom itself. Both Scotland and Northern Ireland opposed Brexit in 2016. A unified Ireland is increasingly discussed, though much would still need to happen between then and now.
Scotland is more pressing. 62% of Scots voted to remain. With Scottish parliament elections approaching in May 2021, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is already mounting a campaign centred on, after 2014’s first effort, another independence referendum. Her agenda is preposterously clear, dictating every move she makes (which includes running a country), and support for independence is growing. If (when?) the SNP win a large majority in May, having run an independence-oriented campaign, Nicola’s case for a second vote will be hard to ignore. The most recent poll from The Scotsman estimates support for independence presently stands at 56%. Future hypotheticals are fun, and not entirely futile.
While I celebrate today’s news, I remain sombre over the farcical Brexit process, and fearful for the future of the United Kingdom. Politicians played cavalier politics, and this is the result. I still believe Britain’s future lay with the EU, and Brexit has sown, harvested, and resown the seeds of division over the last five years. No deal will fix them overnight. And, as someone who is perhaps more patriotic than they’d care to admit, I do believe Britain has a central, integral role on the global stage in combatting global tyranny. Given that there seem to be three modern, economic superpowers – China, the United States and the European Union – I am saddened that Britain has squandered its position at the forefront of one. Mired by nostalgia; by a world that no longer exists, I fear we have undertaken a major step backward, and one from which we will ultimately look back on with sharp embarrassment.
I hope I’m wrong. I reckon the only people more intolerable than those incapable of giving credit, are those who wish to be proved correct, whatever the cost. It is of course possible, down the road, that Brexit will benefit Britain. It is possible, over the next 15 years or so, that the EU’s economic prospects decline. As of today however, we finally have an idea of what Brexit will entail. Something tangible to get behind. Something concrete. Something as good as it was ever going to be.
It’s now 17 minutes past midnight. Merry Christmas.