Why Brexit is still set to remain a difficult fact of life for some time – Ian Swanson

It divided the country, dominated politics for years and delivered the premiership to Boris Johnson. It’s five years ago tomorrow since the Brexit referendum produced its shock 52-48 result in favour of the UK quitting the European Union, and even though it was last year that we actually left, the consequences of that decision still have a long way to run.
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It's not just the economic cost of tearing ourselves out of the world's biggest trading bloc after nearly half a century or the extra hassle it will mean for all sorts of things from foreign travel to cross-border police co-operation.

A report last month highlighted rising costs, higher prices for consumers and a fall in imports and exports between the UK and the continent. However, the full economic impact of Brexit will be masked by the Covid pandemic hitting at the same time.

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But the Brexit debate has also led to profound changes in our politics and society.

In many ways, Brexit has had a similar effect south of the border to the independence question in Scotland – it has undermined traditional party loyalties and become a key determinant of how people vote.

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It also has dramatic constitutional ramifications, threatening the Union on two fronts. The fact Scotland's majority Remain vote was trumped by the English vote for Leave has boosted support for independence and converted many from No to Yes.

Boris Johnson with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (Picture: Aaron Chown - WPA Pool/Getty Images)Boris Johnson with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (Picture: Aaron Chown - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (Picture: Aaron Chown - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

And the Northern Ireland protocol negotiated by Boris Johnson has effectively created a border between Britain and Northern Ireland which is causing a furore over there.

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The Prime Minister, who came to power after Theresa May’s efforts to get a Brexit deal through Westminster reached stalemate, went on to win the 2019 general election on a promise to “get Brexit done”.

But now he has to face not only angry fishermen and farmers, seafood exporters and other businesses who feel let down or disappointed with Brexit, but also the risk that his handling of the situation could lead to the break-up of the UK.

New research out today finds Britain is still divided by Brexit. Four out of five said they would still vote the same way they did in 2016, despite only 21 per cent believing the UK left with a good deal.

However, some of those still backing Remain said they would not vote to rejoin the EU. As a result, the study concludes that a referendum held now on whether to rejoin or stay out could well produce a narrow majority – 52 per cent – in favour of staying out.

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Sir John Curtice, who led the research, says the overall picture is of Britain still more or less evenly divided on the issue, just as it was five years ago.

None of the main UK parties is now arguing the case for the rejoining the EU, with some former Remain supporters pointing out that the UK could no longer expect the special exemptions we used to have like opting out of the euro.

And although the SNP says it would want an independent Scotland to become an EU member, both independence and EU membership would inevitably take time.

So it looks as if Brexit will continue to be a difficult fact of political life for some time to come.

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