How is Brexit Going?

I have often wondered if Breit was a good idea. I found the following article interesting. Warning, it is quite long and several months old

Britain is slowly waking up to the truth: Brexit has left us poorer, adrift and alone

Now Boris Johnson’s gone, all but the most hardened of leavers have been forced to see through those rosy visions of life outside the EU

Last week, having whiled away two joyous days at the Tories’ conference in Birmingham, I spent a long afternoon an hour’s drive away, in the cathedral city of Worcester. The plan was to sample the mood of the kind of place once considered to hold the key to British elections: remember “Worcester woman”, the swing-voting stereotype talked up in the New Labour years? But I was also there to gather more evidence of how much the UK’s current woes are affecting the kind of average-to-affluent places that might once have weathered any economic storm.

Not entirely surprisingly, people said they were worried and scared. Some talked about grownup children suddenly terrified that a mortgage is beyond their reach; others described a new and unsettling habit of using sparing amounts of gas and electricity. The autumn’s increasingly awful mood music – from talk of cancelled local Christmas markets to the possibility of three-hour power cuts – informed just about every conversation I had.

Mention of politics drew some very interesting responses indeed. “I just miss Boris,” said Julie, who works at the city-centre branch of Boots, and told me she had long since got used to conversations with her customers about the impossibility of their living costs. As she and a few other people saw it, Johnson had successfully managed the Covid vaccination programme, and brought some pizzazz and humour to the boring world of politics, which had now reverted to type. They also voiced something I have heard a few times lately: a belief that he had represented the last hope of Brexit somehow opening the way to a happier and more prosperous country, a dream that died when he left Downing Street.

Clearly, that is a very generous opinion of a man who told just as many self-serving lies about leaving the EU as he did about most other things. At the heart of some lingering fondness for him, perhaps, is a lot of people’s refusal to admit how much they were duped. But that view of life before and after Johnson highlights something that is now settling among all but the most hardened Brexit supporters: a quiet, slightly tortured realisation that all those optimistic visions of life outside the EU are not going to materialise, even if the crises triggered by Vladimir Putin eventually subside.

British people being British people, this is not yet a matter of any widespread anger. Though they probably ought to, no one is about to charge into the streets and demand any kind of Brexit reckoning. But if you want to understand the current political moment – and some of the reasons why the Conservatives have so suddenly and spectacularly imploded – here is a strangely overlooked part of the story.

Whoever people blame for our current predicament, one vivid fact is inescapable. The future that 17 million voters bought into six years ago has now collapsed into its precise opposite. In the summer of 2016, let us not forget, Johnson, Michael Gove and the former Labour MP Gisela Stuart jointly put their names to an article in the Sun which insisted that once Brexit happened, “the NHS will be stronger, class sizes smaller and taxes lower. We’ll have more money to spend on our priorities, wages will be higher and fuel bills will be lower.”

A year later, Jacob Rees-Mogg – who still seems to be trying to sniff out undiscovered “Brexit opportunities” – assured anyone who would listen that leaving the EU would open the way to much cheaper food, and therefore increase people’s disposable income. Brexit is not the only thing that has revealed the impossibility of those dreams, but that is not quite the point: making promises like that was both stupid and dangerous, and we are now starting to live with the consequences.

For Liz Truss and her government, post-Brexit politics is proving to be impossible. They want life outside the EU to mean Darwinian economics, public spending cuts and a smaller welfare state – which is not what millions of leave supporters thought they were voting for in the 2016 referendum, nor what the Tories offered in the two elections that followed. Meanwhile, trying to wriggle out of Brexit’s endless constraints in pursuit of growth threatens to tie the government in knots. Suella Braverman, a home secretary who embodies all of modern Conservatism’s nastiness and introversion, says she wants to cut net migration to “tens of thousands”. But Downing Street has been signalling that it wants to liberalise the UK’s immigration system, a move that would definitely send a certain kind of Brexit voter into paroxysms of fury. Everything is a mess because the logic of Truss and her allies’ position cannot hold: as the Brexit revolution that upturned Conservative politics and brought them to power unravels, the reason for their success is also a guarantee of their failure.

Given its longstanding refusal to question our exit from the EU, Keir Starmer’s Labour party faces some comparable contradictions, but seems to be tentatively trying to find a way through. One of the most fascinating moments of the past two weeks of political theatre happened during Starmer’s conference speech in Liverpool, when Starmer actually mentioned the B word, and tentatively talked about what Brexit’s calamities mean for people’s view of politics. Many who voted for Brexit, he said, did so because they wanted “democratic control over their lives … opportunities for the next generation, communities they felt proud of, public services they could rely on”. This was a slightly rose-tinted reading of recent history, but it just about rang true. He added: “Whether you voted leave or remain, you’ve been let down.” His claim that he will somehow make Brexit work still sounds deeply questionable, but this is a start: an acknowledgment, at least, of the lies and cynicism that got us here.

Whether mounting disappointment and resentment will simply mean a neat switch from the Tories to Labour is another matter. The untruths Tony Blair told about the Iraq war eventually played their part in the huge crisis of public trust that led on to Brexit, and the endless political flux that followed it. Now, 2016’s deceits are being revealed in an even more toxic political environment, awash with conspiracy theory and polarisation. Anyone who assumes that a mood of cynicism, fear and dashed hopes will put politics the correct way up ought to maybe think about recent events in Italy, Sweden and France – and, closer to home, that instant nostalgia for the reckless, authoritarian style of leadership that Johnson combined with his more showbiz aspects. Once Truss is out of the way, the ultimate Brexit paradox may yet materialise: a horrific boost for the very kind of politics its failure ought to have killed stone dead.

  • John Harris is a Guardian columnist. To listen to his podcast Politics Weekly UK, search “Politics Weekly UK” on Apple, Spotify, Acast or wherever you get your podcasts. New episodes every Thursday

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