Brexit D-Day

Brexit Day is upon us. Having written so much about Brexit since 2016, I’m not sure what to say, since the symbolic importance of the departure date obscures that this juncture is still the start of a process with many twists and turns still to come.

Moreover, as much as my status as an outsider helped in looking at the negotiations in a clinical matter, it seems inappropriate to say much about an event that has such great significance to the many parties with direct stakes in what comes next.

I feel sad because I have many friends and readers in the UK. While some may do well individually as a result of Brexit, the UK as a whole will become poorer and I worry with Tory ideologues at the helm, more mean-spirited. If Chris Grey is correct, my mood is in line with that of most Brits:

Certainly there is no evidence of a general upsurge of joy, and no mood of national confidence or renewal. The more widespread sense seems to be, at best, one of exhaustion coupled with uncertainty about what has been done and what is to come. For many already realise that today marks only a stage in a very long, painful and uncertain process.

But of course that stage is of fundamental, historic significance because Britain, definitively, leaves the EU with no possibility of revoking that decision. Hence as many, if not more, are mourning as celebrating, and some will even be in despair.

Crucially, there is clear, sustained polling evidencethat more people think that it was wrong to vote to leave the EU than think it was right. The current figures, from 26 January 2020, are 47% to 40%. Even more,56%, think Brexit will be economically damagingcompared with just 21% who think it will be beneficial. Two of the four constituent countries of the UK voted against Brexit, and the parliament/assemblies of three of them have rejected the legislation enacting it.

And, yet, today it will happen.

As an Irish Timeseditorial put it yesterday, “no state in the modern era has committed such a senseless act of self-harm”.

As we stressed from the outset, it might have been possible for the UK to come out of Brexit at only a moderate cost, with a more equitable division of winners and losers, had its proponents understood the magnitude of the task and put in motion a war-level mobilization.

Instead, the nation has suffered from poor leadership thanks to the erosion of the UK’s once vaunted civil service and the rise of soft and overt corruption across the Anglosphere. Times of crisis is when the caliber of the ruling classes matters. The slow-moving crisis of extricating the UK from the EU and trying to enter into replacement arrangements will test the current crop and find them sorely wanting.

There will be decades of studies and books pouring over how the UK decided to hike out and how the supposedly substantial Remain camp was unable to turn its sentiment into an effective rearguard action after the referendum. Was the rupture predestined thanks to Thatcher’s decision to not fully commit to the EU project? How significant was EU expansion to Eastern Europe, a project avidly backed by the UK to dilute the influence of Germany and France, which resulted in 500,000 Polish immigrants to the UK the year after Poland joined (versus a UK forecast of only 50,000)? How much was due to EU failings, like the baked in austerity bias of its fiscal rules, its bank-friendly, citizen-impoverishing post-crisis responses, its failure to move toward more Federal spending? How much was more happenstance, like Cameron deciding to gamble on the referendum, the Remain side running an appalling campaign, and the Fixed Term Parliament Act keeping Thatcher in office well past her sell-by date?

European leaders are making measure statements of regret:

Needless to say, Brexiteers are triumphal:

Skeptics continue to pipe up:

Other tooth-gnashing:

And of course, gallows humor:

Have a drink this evening regardless, if you are the tippling sort…even if it’s laudanum. I’ll toast all of you on the other side of the pond.

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