What Next for Post-Brexit Britain? A Lost Decade of Division
Gareth Roberts examines what could lie ahead for the UK if Boris Johnson’s deal is passed and the country leaves the EU early next year.
Let’s imagine that, at the end of January, the UK leaves the European Union with the withdrawal agreement brokered by the Prime Minister. What next? What will it mean in the years that will succeed our glorious attempt to “take back control”?
I’m going to consider a few scenarios.
It’s 1 February 2020. The hard crashing reality hits the country that the UK has no trade agreements in place. If one assumes that the withdrawal agreement remains substantially unaltered this, even employing David Davis levels of optimism, ain’t going to be easy.
The biggest problem is that the withdrawal agreement means that there is effectively now a customs border down the Irish sea and that Northern Ireland will remain pretty much controlled by the rules of the single market until and unless a way can be found to circumvent the need for border checks. As such, the EU and the European Court of Justice will still play a significant role in Britain’s trading arrangements, which will make negotiating trading deals with other nations complicated.
We will be viewed as a rather strange little nation with an uncertain future and a dodgy past.
The problems don’t end there. In Scotland, assuming an overwhelming victory for the Scottish National Party in a general election, there will now be a genuine case for a second independence referendum – which will also impact upon trade negotiations. Any foreign government will want to know if it is entering a deal with the whole of the UK or with just England and Wales – which may inconveniently end up having an independent Scotland geographically attached to it, already seeking a place back in the EU.
But, say the Brexiteers, we have the US.
Sure, Donald Trump has consistently said that there would be a “beautiful deal” between America and post-Brexit UK. However, this is also the same Donald Trump who is currently facing impeachment and who, regardless of the outcome of those proceedings, will face his own electorate in 2020. Who knows what the result will be then. Even if Trump wins in 2020, it won’t be because he has promised a great deal to the UK. It will be because, once again, he has pursued a policy of American isolationism – “America First”. Of course, if the Democrats win, all bets are off as they would prefer to deal with the EU than with an ‘independent’ UK.
This isn’t ‘Project Fear’, it is a cold, hard evaluation of the difficulties that Britain is going to face post Brexit because, rather than the UK becoming some kind of wonderful sovereign nation, ruling the waves and spreading our brand of religious and civic life to the heathens of the world, we will be viewed as a rather strange little nation with an uncertain future and a dodgy past.
We will become an oddity. The country that voted to leave the most successful and powerful international institution in the world.
So, what will happen then?
With Britain bogged down in a desperate attempt to obtain trade deals, our economic future will be uncertain, with manufacturing and agriculture the hardest hit.
Britain will have to change its economy if it is to survive. Being kind to Brexiteers and freed from EU regulations, a Boris Johnson Government would attempt to remould Britain as a low tax, minimal regulation economy. The City of London would be key and some people may well get very rich on the back of this.
But, what about those in the north? Or those dependent upon the state for their housing, their health, their education? In short, most of us? Well, our futures will be uncertain.
So, how will this affect our politics? I predict three potential scenarios.
The first is that, in about a decade, the people of what is left of the UK will be looking covetously at Scotland (or physically moving there), and asking for reintroduction into the EU. At that stage, people like me will be banging our heads against a wall in exasperation and lamentation of a lost decade.
The scarier scenario is that post-Brexit Britain becomes an economically depressed little oddity. The Brexiteers, now firmly ensconced as English Nationalists, will blame Europe and the ‘liberal elite’ for the disaster and introduce increasingly draconian measures to silence Parliament, the judiciary and experts. Even our new and ageing monarch King Charles III will be derided as being against the ‘will of the people’ as they go about the task of turning Britain into a socially regressive country with a democracy that is dominated by an increasingly centralised executive.
The political parties will not return to ones based loosely upon the class divisions of the early 20th Century, but instead coalesce around the issue of Europe.
In other words, having been given their teeth by Brexit, the right-wing will continue to ascend, reaching increasing levels of ugliness as they rip through the socially liberal elements of British public life hard won over the past hundred years.
The last scenario is the one which Brexiteers want us to believe will happen: that, after Brexit, politics will return to what it was when the Tories and Labour traded blows and took it in turn to form governments, as the people of Britain happily carry on, content that they’ve reclaimed their democracy.
But, without doubt, Brexit has changed Britain forever. The issue of Europe will not go away. In future, just about every aspect of public life will be seen through the prism of Brexit – every success will be lauded as ‘look how wonderful this is without EU’, and every failure will be blamed squarely at our absence from the European decision-making forum. The political parties will not return to ones based loosely upon the class divisions of the early 20th Century, but instead coalesce around the issue of Europe.
The next decade will not see Britain either return to what she was or rise to a prominent role within the world. This isn’t ‘remoaning’, this is just dead-eyed realism.
Most frustrating is that, by the time the fallout from Brexit will have filled all of our lungs, my children will be adults, whilst I – just like David Cameron, Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg and everyone else who brought this about – will be coming to the end of my inglorious career.
Will it all have been worth it? Will the society created on the back of a dodgy rhetorical promise of “taking back control” be any better for my children?
Not a chance.
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