Boris Johnson became Prime Minister on the promise that Brexit would bring prosperity and pride. Did it? Here’s everything you need to know:
How was Brexit born?
The UK voted narrowly to leave the European Union in a 2016 referendum after a bitter campaign plagued by misinformation and racism. Camp Leave’s main cheerleader was Boris Johnson, who has repeatedly and erroneously claimed loud and clear that Britain sends £350m to the EU every week. Brexit, he said, would give Britons their money back – and allow them to set their own immigration policy, so they wouldn’t have to accept as many asylum seekers or migrants from the EU. After negotiations with the EU over exit terms dragged on for years, Johnson won the premiership in 2019 with a pledge to “get Brexit done”. Now he is leaving 10 Downing Street in a cloud of lies and scandal, and although Brexit is over, few are happy with the outcome. Britain’s GDP per capita has risen just 3.8% since the referendum, while that of the EU has jumped 8.5%. Businesses are struggling to recruit skilled workers and trade with Europe has collapsed. “If you can’t get your goods to the biggest market on your doorstep,” said Gyr King, managing director of King & McGaw, a printing company, “you have to shoot yourself in the foot.”
What was Brexit supposed to bring?
By setting out his case for Brexit in The telegraph ahead of the referendum, Johnson focused primarily on sovereignty issues, saying up to 60% of new UK legislation was being drafted in Brussels and that Britons needed to take back their country. It was long on moving rhetoric and short on economic specifics. Other prominent Brexit supporters, such as the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, spoke of the prospect of the UK as Singapore-on-Thames, a low-tax haven and low-regulation that would thrive by attracting international business. The UK, these supporters said, would make its own more beneficial trade deals with the US and other countries.
How much of this happened?
Not a lot. Yes, the British are no longer bound by EU law. But the Brexit deal that Johnson reluctantly backed tied British regulatory policy tightly to that of Europe (because otherwise the EU wouldn’t buy British goods) and generated costly bureaucracy. In one of the UK’s four constituent countries, Northern Ireland, EU law still largely reigns as the EU has refused to jeopardize Irish peace by erecting a hard border across the island from Ireland. Instead, there is a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain, a break that infuriates many Northern Irish people. And because Johnson continues to try to rewrite this provision of the Brexit deal, the US – which had taken the lead in drafting the Irish peace accords – has refused to sign a major trade deal with the Kingdom. -United.
How’s the UK economy doing?
It is not in good condition. Immediately after the referendum, the pound fell 10% and it did not recover. This drove up import prices and caused what the Center for Economic Policy Research called “a rapid negative shock to UK living standards”. Things got even worse when the UK effectively left the European single market in December 2020, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. The flow of goods has collapsed due to the loss of European truck drivers, and manufacturing has been hit as companies have been shut out of EU supply chains. Just ten years ago, the average Briton was about as wealthy as the average German; now that the Briton is 15% poorer than the German. Brexit Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg was recently ridiculed when asked to name the economic benefits of Brexit, he resorted to bragging about avoiding a 2% rise in the price of fish sticks.
Surely there were other benefits?
Britain has indeed regained control of its immigration policy, and it no longer pays EU dues. Some argue that immigration is now fairer, since EU members are no longer automatically favored – although immigration rates have remained stable, rather than falling as promised. The UK has also adopted stricter policies than the EU on animal welfare, an issue close to the hearts of Britons, and has banned the export of live farm animals. More generally, Brexit had a significant psychological effect, restoring a sense of proud independence to a nation that never quite recovered from the loss of its empire. Yet this revival of English patriotism has a dark side: the Brexit campaign has demonized immigrants and hate crimes have more than doubled since 2015. In a recent poll, only 17% of Britons said Brexit had improved their life.
How will Johnson’s departure affect Brexit?
The Conservative Party race to replace Johnson as prime minister, pitting Foreign Secretary Liz Truss against former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, has taken the form of an ideological battle over the post-EU future of Great Britain. It has become Tory orthodoxy to express no regrets over Brexit, and Truss, the favourite, has come under fire for voting to Remain. But she now backs the Singapore option on the Thames, saying she would reduce regulation. Sunak, on the other hand, would spend on social services and raise corporate taxes. Meanwhile, the opposition Labor Party led by Keir Starmer has adopted the new slogan ‘Make Brexit Work’, promising that if it takes power it will make the most of what it calls a ‘bad deal’ . However, other key Labor figures, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, want the UK to join the European single market. Brexit, Khan said, is “the greatest self-inflicted harm ever done to a country”.
A Kingdom Divided
Brexit has weakened the ties between the four countries of the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The new customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is a symbolic break between Belfast and London, and Northern Irish nationalists are now talking of holding a long-drawn-out UK exit referendum for unite with Ireland. Scotland is even more likely to stage an independence vote. Most Scots, 62%, voted to stay in the EU, and many want to join. While Scottish voters rejected independence in 2014, in a poll last year more than half said they wanted another referendum. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is currently fighting in court to give them one. “Scottish democracy”, she said, “will not be held prisoner”.
This article first appeared in the latest issue of The week magazine. If you want to know more, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here