Today the UK starts the formal process of leaving the European Union. The Government sets out on a road to take back control of Britain’s laws and borders in what is sure to be a tortuous and long negotiation, with leaks and bust-ups and moments of high drama.
Reaction will come quick and fast; some will lament, others will cheer, the pound may rise or fall. But many of those at the top who wished the UK to Remain and will lament today share a portion of the responsibility for getting us here. David Cameron for settling party politics with a referendum; EU leaders who refused to believe the UK would truly leave and did not therefore provide Cameron with a good renegotiation deal; Jean-Claude Juncker for being Jean-Claude Juncker; and former Prime Ministers who overrode the concerns of the people time and again, pushing ahead with integrationist treaties.
In truth, the UK has always been part-detached from the project and fundamentally at odds with the principle of Ever Closer Union. ‘We were only ever in it for the trade’, we often hear, but ironically the referendum has created a strongly pro-EU section of society that simply didn’t exist previously. These people feel their identity is being taken from them without their consent, and in any situation that’s a shame. Had that strong pro-EU identity existed over the past few decades, making the case for the EU in the media and in public discourse, the result may have been different last June.
At home, Labour remain completely at sea about their response to Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn has without question played an incredibly important part in helping the Government set its own agenda free of interference. His continuation as Leader will surely be a help to Theresa May during tough moments to come. The Scottish Nationalists are making trouble for the Government with a second push for independence in Scotland, but May is ignoring it and in many ways this could be the last hurrah of the independence movement, whose support may well shrink once it becomes clear that Scotland could be outside the UK and EU if Nicola Sturgeon has her way. With a resurgent Scottish Conservative Party under Ruth Davidson providing tough opposition, the First Minister will surely need to make the government of Scotland a priority at some point.
The small Liberal Democrats hope to make the case for remaining come what may, but there are few places where their message will resonate as it did in the Richmond by-election – 73% of constituencies in England and Wales voted Leave – and in any case we should have left the EU by the time of the 2020 election, meaning their cause celebre will have become redundant by that point. And UKIP – the party set up precisely for this moment – is floundering under weak leadership and damaged by the fact that its raison d’etre has been achieved.
All this means that the Prime Minister has little to fear from domestic enemies in the negotiations to come. This is just as well, as she will have little time for domestic politics in the next few years, her greatest challenges abroad.
Authored by: Michael Stott