The Brief — The Brexiteers’ lament

The Brief — The Brexiteers’ lament |

The last few years have been a tough time to be a British europhile. Out of the EU, out of the single market, no freedom of movement and no prospect of things getting better any time soon. 

This week the House of Commons voted to give ministers the power to scrap several thousand pieces of EU law at the stroke of a pen by the end of 2023. That could mean a bonfire of laws on workers’ rights, environmental protection and many others. 

Yet, perversely, the real despair is to be found among some of Brexit’s most enthusiastic cheerleaders. Last week, Sherrelle Jacobs, a Brexiteer writing for the conservative Daily Telegraph, lamented that ‘Britain is going to rejoin the EU far sooner than anyone now imagines’. 

The Conservative government has “made such a hash of the project it is probably unsalvageable,” Jacobs added, describing Brexit as a ‘national psychodrama’. Hyperbole is the stock in trade for a columnist, but Jacobs is not a lone voice.

More than six years after the referendum, the ‘B’ word has certainly not disappeared from everyday policy debate. Most weeks bring new reports about the effects – usually negative – of Brexit on the UK economy, migration and British influence in the world. Brexiteers accuse the media of doom-mongering. 

Opinion polls consistently indicate that most Britons consider leaving the EU a mistake and would vote to rejoin if another referendum were held. 

But despite the numbers, no senior politicians talk about the UK rejoining the EU any time soon. There is more chance of Boris Johnson becoming ‘world king,’ the job he really wanted as a child, than of another referendum being held. 

Having supported a second referendum ahead of the December 2019 election, won so decisively by Boris Johnson, the Labour party conceded defeat on the question of EU membership. One of Keir Starmer’s first acts as party leader was to declare Brexit as ‘settled’. 

Three years on and now boasting opinion poll leads of 20%+, Starmer appears to have adopted ‘safety first’ tactics. That means making as few policy commitments as possible and waiting for an unpopular and incompetent Conservative government to make more mistakes and become more unpopular. Oppositions don’t win elections; governments lose them is the mantra. 

Officially, Labour’s position is to criticise the government’s handling of Brexit at every point while simultaneously insisting that the UK should stay out of the EU and the single market and ‘make Brexit work,’ though without offering any detail on how this could or should be done. It’s an awkward balancing act, and a vow of silence is not a long-term substitute for policy.

The disillusionment of so many Brexiteers is partly because they fear that Labour will change tack as soon as it wins an election. The prospects of rejoining may be very dim, but the idea that the referendum and 2019 election settled the UK’s relations with the EU now looks just as far-fetched.

The Roundup

The pharmaceutical industry disproportionately influenced EU institutions resulting in harm to public health, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from two health NGOs.

Muslim women who wear headscarves are particularly affected by discrimination and exclusion in Germany, a report found, though not everyone in the governing coalition is in favour of reforming anti-discrimination laws.

A new investigation found that Italian authorities took part in illegal intra-EU pushbacks of asylum seekers, detaining foreign nationals below deck on commercial ferries after their arrival in Italy’s ports and sending them back to Greece.

The Bulgarian President Rumen Radev denounced as a hate crime the attack on the secretary of the Bulgarian cultural club “Tsar Boris III” in Ohrid, North Macedonia, while the caretaker Prime Minister Galab Donev asked his counterpart in Skopje to facilitate the transport of the victim for treatment in Bulgaria.

And finally, check out our Agrifood Brief: Whining about wine, and our Tech Brief: AI treaty excludes NGOs, Whatsapp’s new fine.

Look out for…

  • Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski in Berlin for Global Forum for Agriculture on Saturday.
  • Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas participates in EPP Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting on Monday.
  • Foreign Affairs Council on Monday.

Views are the author’s.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald/Alice Taylor]


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