The UK finally left the European Union at the end of January 2020 but we remained in the Single Market and Customs Union to the end of 2020, so we didn’t start to see the full effects of Brexit until the start of 2021. Is Brexit working? Is it delivering what the Leave campaign promised? What’s happening for people who supported Brexit? What’s happening for people who opposed it?
Where do the Liberal Democrats go, as the party that’s consistently campaigned for EU membership?
British politics has been significantly more dysfunctional since the referendum. We’ve seen two snap General Elections, MPs who put the case for Remain (and therefore know the likely consequences of Brexit) voting for Brexit deals that they know will harm their constituents, an illegal prorogation of parliament, Tory grandees John Major, Kenneth Clarke and Michael Hesseltine publicly criticising their own party, Labour unable to oppose the government on the single biggest issue of our lifetimes, and a Tory sleeze crisis leading to a parliamentary by election.
Covid19 has had serious economic consequences, but the Office for Budget Responsibility predicts that Brexit will do twice as much damage as Covid.
Dominic Cummings recently posted something on his blog which mentions a meeting in October 2020 where Boris Johnson finally realised what leaving the Customs Union would mean, and was shocked. Did Johnson lie in the referendum campaign (and the 2019 General Election) or did he just say what he thought people wanted to hear? The same blog post also says that, after that meeting, “One very senior official texted me, ‘Now I realise how you managed to get Brexit done’.”
Demands for “BBC balance” are problematic — I’ve heard claims that the BBC is biased because it’s not reporting the “benefits” of Brexit, without naming the reality that the “benefits” of Brexit are hard to find.
It takes a while for any country to join (or re-join) the EU. It would only make sense to try if there is clear support across the political spectrum, and we are not there yet. Pushing too soon and too loudly for the UK to rejoin risks people thinking Brexit was sabotaged.
How do Liberal Democrats engage with this? How do we sit on our hands when many of us feel that Britain’s future should be at the heart of the EU? How do we keep faith with the minority of Liberal Democrat supporters who voted Leave or are waiting to see if Brexit works?
Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Huntingdon Constituency in the 2019 General Election. His blog, with many Brexit-related articles is at markargent.com/blog