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Nothing Has Changed: What Brexit Means is Still Up For Grabs

Paul Niland takes inspiration from the Ukrainian EuroMaidan revolution and argues that fundamental forces will stop Britain from moving too far away from the EU.

Paul Niland takes inspiration from the Ukrainian EuroMaidan revolution and argues that fundamental forces will stop Britain from moving too far away from the EU.

As we continue the autopsy on the Remain movement, here is a reminder: nothing has actually changed.

With the return of Boris Johnson to Number 10, and a Tory majority in the House of Commons, many have thrown in the towel. Brexit is now inevitable, Leave has won, and those who had backed Remain and believed the country could be saved by a hung Parliament are now waving the white flag. Where there was once hope, there is now only a feeling of despondency.

I have experienced something similar to this before. During Ukraine’s 2014 Revolution of Dignity there was one moment when the wind was taken out of the sails of those who stood on Kyiv’s central square demanding an end to corruption and – ironically when we look at the UK today – closer ties to the European Union. That moment was when the Ukrainian President, Victor Yanukovych, sat down with Russian President Vladimir Putin and together they signed a $15 billion loan agreement that came with a promised one-third reduction in the price Ukraine paid for Russian gas. That was it, the protesters thought – it was seen as too big to overcome. Between them, Yanukovych and Putin had bought an end to the revolution.

The despondency on Ukraine’s Maidan would last for a couple of days and then people came around to the understanding that, aside from the $15 billion bribe, nothing had changed. The reasons why protestors first took to the streets were still there. Ukraine was still ruled by a corrupt clan intending to cling to power in order to illicitly enrich themselves. We, the people protesting, were not going home. We were not giving up. The fight was still on because the fundamentals had not changed.

The same should now hold true for those in the UK who do not agree with it leaving the EU.

I am not a legal expert and I do not know what remedies remain open for stopping Brexit. I suspect there are none, but that does not mean that people should simply drop their objections to the events that are about to befall the UK. The Leave side has constantly said that it won and that Remain lost, meaning that the folks who are Remain-minded should now shut up. No. 

This isn’t just sour grapes, there remains good reason to object to what’s happening, even if – in the short-term – it cannot be stopped.

Blind Eye to Destruction

Speaking your mind is one of the most fundamental of all freedoms that people in democracies enjoy. For those who are now elated that the UK will be leaving the EU, putting an end to your basic right to complain about this has always been one of their goals. This is, in large part, because they really have no good arguments about why they are supporting leaving the EU in the first place.

So, speak up, exercise your right to do so, don’t let them shut you up and do not – under any circumstances – self-censor.

One of the key arguments as to why the UK needed to implement the result of the flawed June 2016 EU Referendum was that it was necessary to do so in the defence of democratic principles. I suspect that when Boris Johnson comes to defend his actions in his memoirs, that will be a cornerstone of his excuse. “Sure,” he will write, “that Brexit thing ended up damaging the UK and was an unmitigated disaster which harmed the country in all kinds of ways, but what else could I do? The people had voted and it was my duty to see it through.”

Of course, by then, we will all be scoffing openly at the idea that Johnson has a sense of duty. The reality is that Brexit was nothing more than a path to power for him. At the cost of the demise of the United Kingdom and the damaged lives that will result from this folly, Johnson became the Prime Minister as that was always his all-encompassing goal, irrespective of the cost to others.

What is going to come next is going to be eye-opening for many.

There are some who now think that Johnson’s mandate means that he has a strong negotiating position vis a vis the EU. It does not. This is another thing that has not changed. Johnson has the power to do pretty much whatever he wants to in the UK, but that has no bearing on the powers that form the EU negotiating position. The Brexit that was promised in 2016 will still never happen, because it was always a fantasy and the UK is not holding all the cards. The UK will not, as had been promised, continue to enjoy the benefits of EU membership without the associated costs. That, which Johnson called having his cake and eating it at the time of the referendum campaign, was always an impossibility.

The reality is that the EU is a protectionist organisation and is set up to protect the interests of members of the bloc. While the UK has been a member, it has benefited greatly from the collective bargaining power that membership brought. But, the UK will now be negotiating with this much larger entity all alone and the choices it faces as it tries to do a trade deal at record speed will be to take whatever is on offer – as was the case with his withdrawal agreement. It will likely be a settlement that is inferior to the current arrangements, which are set to expire come what may at the end of 2020.

As has been seen from the basic lack of understanding demonstrated by a procession of Brexit Secretaries, the UK is not actually very good at international negotiations. Because for the past few decades the UK’s trade relations have been negotiated on behalf of the UK by … the EU.

There’s also another big hole in the current Brexit planning ‘logic’ to replace trade between the UK and the EU by swashbuckling towards great new trade deals across the world – embodying the “global Britain” that has been promised. The problem is, the likes of the US and Australia are a really long way away.

Even if Brexit is not unstoppable, nothing has changed. Brexit was won through law-breaking and lies and it is an act of pointless self-harm for the country. So don’t back down or shut up. Keep fighting the good fight.

Paul Niland is an Irish writer and political commentator based in Kyiv, and the founder of Lifeline Ukraine.

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