What has Brexit done for us?

Next Tuesday will be the third birthday of the UK’s exit from the EU. I can see nothing to celebrate though we might expect champagne corks to pop in Jacob Rees Mogg Land.

With hindsight it was like a pantomime. Campaigns of lies, deceptions and bluster. An Olympic competition for the biggest lie.

The referendum on 23 June 2016 saw a high turnout of 72.2%, with 48.1% against and a winning 51.9% in favour, though Scotland voted against. The UK duly left the EU at 11pm Friday 31 January 2020.

In the fantasy land occupied by Boris Johnson (now raking in the cash), Jacob Rees Mogg (now of GB news) and some newspapers, everything since then has been glorious. But that is a political fiction.

People realise that. In a poll published by the i this weekend, 49% of those that expressed a view wanted to rejoin the EU and 51% were against. That’s the closest margin yet.

The tide is turning against the Brexiteers.

The BMG survey of 1,052 adults for i asked what impact rejoining the EU would have on:

  • The economy: 47% positive.
  • Trade with non-EU countries: 38% positive.
  • Trade with EU countries: 55% positive.
  • Standing in the world: 42% positive.
  • Cost of living: 40% positive.
  • UK influence: 41% positive.

Opinion was more divided on other issues:

  • Immigration levels: 26% positive; 31% no difference; 33% negative.
  • NHS and public services: 32% positive; 36% no difference; 23% negative.
  • Covid-19 response: 29% positive; 40% no difference; 22% negative.
  • Political situation in Northern Ireland: 36% positive; 32% no difference; 17% negative.
  • Laws and regulations for people and businesses: 38% positive; 22 no difference; 29% negative.

At the heart of David Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum was in part a panic against the rise of UKIP and a desire to appease the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservatives. He wanted to win a No vote and use that to lever concessions out of the increasingly federalist EU.

But he reckoned without Jacob Rees Mogg and Boris Johnson. The weekend before Brexit, Jacob Rees Mogg wrote in an excruciating article in the Sunday Mail:

“The moment of national renewal has come… We can embark on this new age with confidence and excitement. Over two millenniums since mighty Augustus quelled the unrest and strife in ancient Rome and brought in a new golden age, our auriferous Prime Minister is bringing in a new era of revitalisation to our nation.”

There is no evidence for that.

It is obvious that Brexit is causing many businesses problems.

Some of the problems are being blamed on EU bureaucracy. But our businesses were used to that and the costs had long been discounted. But administration has increased since leaving the EU but that is because we left the single market and we are no longer allowed to travel into continental Europe check free, commercially or as tourists.

The OECD predicts Britain will plummet to the bottom of the G7 league table for growth in the next two years. By the end of next year, the average British family will be less well off than the average Slovenian one. By the end of this decade, the average British family will have a lower standard of living than the average Polish one.

Brexit is also hitting our universities. The number of EU students enrolling in UK universities has halved post-Brexit.

Brexit is bad for the UK but Jacob Rees Mogg and the Brexiteers are determined to make it worse. All EU policies enshrined in UK law must be replaced or scrapped by the end of the year, at the latest 2026. The deadline is arbitrary, political and unneeded. The bonfire of EU regulations is a bonfire of protections.

In the Commons, Sarah Olney proposed a cross party amendment calling for the legislation to include a definitive list of legislation. Currently the bill lists just over 2,400 EU-derived laws but the true total could be closer to 4,000 pieces of legislation. The definitive list is important because all EU legislation incorporated into UK law expires at the end of 2023 (the date Jacob Rees Mogg is pushing for) or at the end of 2026 under a sunset clause in the bill. She said:

When we talk about retained EU law, we are talking about legislation that guarantees a host of rights, including workers’ rights such as holiday pay and maternity pay, data protection rights and legislation that determines our animal welfare and food quality standards. Yet we could see huge swathes of law revoked or reformed with no parliamentary scrutiny or consultation… This Bill is simply an undemocratic power grab by the Conservative Government.

Sarah Olney also expressed concerns about the environmental impact of the scrapping of more than 1,000 EU-derived rules:

Liberal Democrats are extremely concerned about the potential for environmental deregulation through this Bill, which the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has described as an “attack on nature”. The UK is already one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, and the Government cannot afford to relax regulation.

This theme was also made by the environmental umbrella charity Wildlife Link which said the cost of relaxing environmental legislation could amount to £83 billion over 30 years.

In my view it’s not time yet to make rejoining the EU a leading policy for the Liberal Democrats. Such a move could make us unelectable. However, we should champion a closer relationship with Europe. That might include rejoining the single market. After all, that was a Tory policy that they have now abandoned.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk.

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23 Comments

  • Martin Gray 29th Jan '23 - 3:25pm

    Andy , Britain has never fully embraced the European ideal. We had the third lowest turnout in EU elections of all time & averaged in the low to mid 30% region .
    The only time the British public came out in force as regards voting on the EU – was the referendum itself .
    Outside of metropolitan areas – towns voted heavily to leave , especially in those deindustrialised area’s.
    FOM wasn’t that popular , & was always going to be a one way ticket in those towns. It also concerned many older socially conservative voters – ultimately it facilitated Brexit. Looking around those communities – who could blame them for voting to leave , they couldn’t see or feel no benefits in EU membership.
    They’ll be no going back , not for generations. If Eurozone status is conditional, then it would be an impossible sell to the British electorate…I’m all for working more closely with Europe – but we need to spell out just what that exactly means , other than that, it’s just banded about political speak

  • Rejoining EFTA and the EEA is the most straight forward route. Point to how well the economies of EEA members have done within that framework; whether it is financial centres like Liechtenstein, Oil and gas producers like Norway or renewable energy based economies like Iceland.
    The four EFTA States are open, developed economies with trade figures that are substantially higher than might be expected from a total of less than 14 million people. EFTA is the ninth largest trader in the world in merchandise trade and the fifth largest in trade in services. EFTA is the third most important trading partner in goods for the EU and the second most important when it comes to services.

  • Sadly from our point of view there is little or no general enthusiasm to rejoin, most seem to feel, whether they agreed with the decision to leave OR NOT that we are stuck where we are and must make the best of it.
    It would be foolhardy on our part to go for re-joining or joining!

  • @ Martin Gray “Britain has never fully embraced the European ideal”.

    Martin, could I gently suggest an amendment to your comment to the more accurate, “England has never fully embraced the European ideal”. 62% voted Remain in Scotland.

    Also, interesting to read Councillor Boddington’s contribution on which way the wind is blowing, and here’s hoping the party’s current Leadership duly wakes up, takes note asap, and avoids missing the bus.

  • Mel Borthwaite 29th Jan '23 - 6:29pm

    “Such a move could make us unelectable”
    Let’s get real here – the target is to get a double digit share of the vote and more than a dozen MPs. If adopting a very pro-EU position immediately makes us an attractive option for a third of the population, it is difficult to see us not gaining more support than we may lose from taking that stance.

  • @David ….
    It was a UK wide referendum, & 1 million + Scots voted to leave the European Union…
    The chances of them ever being accepted into the EU as an independent country are virtually nil…

  • Andy Boddington 30th Jan '23 - 1:58am

    Well worth a listen – The Documentary: Brexit: Three Years On

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3ct51j9

  • David Franks 30th Jan '23 - 11:21am

    Liberal Democrat leaders have no right to stay silent on the key issue when the Party has a very clear policy, officially approved by ;large majority at conference, of working to improve Britain’s relationships with its EU neighbours and forge much closer financial, environmental and cultural ties.

  • Peter Watson 30th Jan '23 - 12:41pm

    @David Franks “Liberal Democrat leaders have no right to stay silent on the key issue when the Party has a very clear policy, officially approved by ;large majority at conference…”
    In theory, the party has very clear policies, approved by a majority at conferences, to “abandon the selection by ability and social separation of young people, into different schools” and to “ensure that selection in admissions on the basis of religion or belief to state-funded schools is phased out”, yet I think the whole party has been silent on those!

    The strategy appears to be ensuring that any policies which might be unpopular in the blue wall are best kept secret (or in the case of HS2, reversed). It will be interesting to see what that means for Universal/Guaranteed Basic Income (the long grass is my expectation). 🙁

  • A referendum on rejoining the EU would be a clear, memorable and easy to explain policy. In that sense it us similar to the people’s vote on the deal policy that got us to 20% in the EU elections.

    By contrast the current silence policy is similar to the revoke policy in that is baffling and inexplicable with the result of a loss of support.

  • Peter Martin 31st Jan '23 - 12:25pm

    @ Marco,

    “A referendum on rejoining the EU would be a clear, memorable and easy to explain policy.”

    Would it?

    I can’t see how. We’d need to know what we were voting for. Probably the Leave side may well advocate the boycott of any poll until we did. This would negate any legitimacy it might have.

    The EU would firstly need to express a willingness to allow an application from the UK. The terms on which we would be allowed to join would need to be outlined. Any requirement to adopt the euro or even to abide by the rules of the misnamed “Stability and Growth Pact”, which are equally restrictive, would need to be set out.

  • Peter Martin 31st Jan '23 - 12:31pm

    @ David Raw,

    “England has never fully embraced the European ideal”

    If we’re being picky, shouldn’t that be England, Cornwall ( many of whom don’t consider themselves English) and Wales?

    You’re querying the statement “Britain has never fully embraced the European ideal”.

    If we take Britain to mean Great Britain, which is a geographical term meaning it is the largest island in the British Isles then this would be perfectly true if we ignore the fact that rivers and mountain ranges cannot embrace anything. Instead we should count all residents equally. But, on a point of information: The EU membership was for the United Kingdom which includes Northern Ireland. So we could make it the UK and this still wouldn’t negate the truth of the statement.

    If Scottish people are so enamoured with the EU that they wish to swap the neoliberalism of a Westminster Govt, either Labour or Tory, for the much worse ordoliberalism of EU membership then that’s a matter to be decided after independence. I suspect they aren’t and the EU issue is being used a wedge to support the drive for independence rather than a keen desire to swap UK control for EU control. We’ll have to see how it all plays out.

  • @ Peter Martin – I meant that it would be a straightforward position for Lib Dems to explain on the doorsteps – unlike the current stance or “revoke” – not that rejoining the EU would be straightforward.

    A rejoin referendum could be a two stage process with a vote on whether to start negotiations and a second vote on whether to accept the offer (which is how the 2016 ref should have been done).

  • @ Peter Martin Sorry, Peter, but I’m afraid you’re living in the past. Have you caught up with this today ? Take a look your own constituency.

    Lib Dem Voice : “How much does your constituency regret Brexit? ….. By Andy Boddington | Tue 31st January 2023 – 11:05 am

  • Peter Martin 31st Jan '23 - 3:06pm

    @ David,

    It’s rather more that you are getting ahead of yourself if you think the UK is no longer in existence.

    I meant to ask if you are really claiming that the people of Scotland have ever “fully embraced the European ideal”? What does this mean exactly? The previous UK/ EU agreement was hardly a full embrace of the EU ideal, which would have included the adoption of the euro and Schengen, with no opt outs.

    Leavers and most remainers were eurosceptics to a large extent. The difference was simply a matter of degree. Did the plusses outweigh the minuses? We have more in common that many Joiners / Rejoiners would care to admit

  • Richard Elliott 1st Feb '23 - 11:02pm

    I would like to see our leaders and mps make a clear and straightforward statements advocating that we use the 2025 renegotiation point with the EU to rejoin the single market and customs union or as close as we can get to it. Now is not the time for a rejoin argument and therefore a second referendum question is not relevant and certainly would not be popular. It is not necessary to have a refendum on the single market as this was not the 2016 brexit question. As I assess the majority public mood they believe that our economy is suffering as a result of Brexit and would welcome decisive action by the next government without the agony of a referendum. The Freedom of Movement issue is also an area where a debate can be won

    Advocating the SM and CU is both in line with party policy and has to be attractive to our target audience. Realistically we are aiming at 15% of the vote and 30 seats – seats that are strongly remain. This would differentiate ourselves from Labour and the Tories – we must give voters a reason to vote for us. It is disappopinting that our leadership takes such a safe line and is not bold enough on Europe. Most voters know the Tories are failing so lets not spend all our time on this but communicating clear distinct policies such as rejoining the SM and CU in 2025.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Feb '23 - 3:24pm

    @ Martin

    So you think we might have two referendums? I don’t think this is realistic. The Government would negotiate a deal and then we’d have referendum.

    Neither would it be realistic to ask anyone to vote on something when the terms weren’t clear. Would you decide to take job without knowing the terms and conditions? Anyone with any sense would pass on that suggestion.

    But maybe this wouldn’t include europhiles on matters relating to the EU?

  • Peter Martin: Would you decide to take job without knowing the terms and conditions?

    That’s exactly what Leave voters did in 2016. Did you complain then?

  • Peter Martin 3rd Feb '23 - 4:26pm

    @ Cassie,

    I suppose you could argue that we quit our previous job without knowing what the terms and conditions would be of any new one. Or maybe that we ended a relationship without knowing how well any new one would work out. But isn’t this how it usually is, or at least often is, in life?

    If we make a decision to separate from our partner, it really wouldn’t do much good to go back on that if we thought the settlement wasn’t beneficial enough. I can well imagine what my own wife would have have said if I’d ever told her, I was leaving her for another woman but then changed my mind because the I didn’t like the divorce settlement! 🙂

    I’m not sure what you are suggesting re the 2016 Brexit vote. We should have negotiated first and had the vote later?

  • Peter Hirst 4th Feb '23 - 3:18pm

    The question for me is how bad things need to get for the public and politicians to realise that the present situation cannot continue. Part of the challenge is accepting that Brexit is responsible at least in part for our situation. We need a continuing honest conversation that the media have a vital role in.

  • BBC article today on whether the Green party are making a breakthrough adds to my sense of frustration: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-64501427

    “One issue that does set them apart from Labour – as well as the Tories and the Lib Dems – is Brexit.
    The party backs re-joining the EU “as soon as the political conditions are right””.

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