FIVE years ago, the United Kingdom’s citizens went to the polls to cast one of the most important votes of their lives. They were deciding whether the UK should remain in the European Union or leave. A total of 17.4million voters gave our government a clear instruction, a result that stunned our own political leaders as well as the EU.
This was a momentous decision after more than four decades of membership of a trade bloc that had morphed into a very different beast, with UK voters never having had a direct say on even significant changes to its structure, notably the treaties of Maastricht and Lisbon. The latter, ironically, laid out the mechanism that allowed the UK to begin its withdrawal.
The UK’s vote to leave the EU transcended race, politics, profession, and industry. The public told David Cameron in no uncertain terms that the concessions he had secured from Brussels weren’t enough. Voters were no longer prepared to tolerate a position where the UK required consent from the EU to make significant and timely domestic decisions.
Having taken power from David Cameron, Prime Minister Theresa May decided on the gamble of the 2017 snap election, resulting in a weaker domestic position. Over the coming months, voters watched in horror as Parliament became paralysed by the Remain cabal, hell-bent on passing any measure possible to stop the UK from leaving the EU.
The saboteurs knew that any agreement that gave the EU a greater degree of leverage was their only hope of damaging Brexit to the point where voters, perhaps even parliamentarians, might eventually change their minds. How wrong they were, and how they misjudged Leavers. Many of the saboteurs were punished by the electorate at the 2019 General Election but not before they had inflicted a severe wound on our democracy, and ensured that the UK remained on its knees in future negotiations with the EU.
Having campaigned to ‘get Brexit done’ on the basis of the Withdrawal Agreement that was passed by Parliament, incoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson was no longer able to remove the Northern Ireland protocol that he had negotiated himself. Any subsequent amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement would probably have resulted in the Remainer-heavy House of Lords invoking convention and setting off an endless round of parliamentary ping-pong.
Johnson had no option but to get Brexit done on the basis of the poor deal that he himself had signed. With the advantage of the NI Protocol, the EU continued to take a hard line in negotiations, knowing that they had been handed the power they needed to decide unilaterally how much they would threaten the integrity of the UK at any given time.
The UK finally left the EU on 31 December 2020, albeit with a border down the Irish Sea and a deal that few were satisfied with, but Brexit is far from done. The process will continue for a long time to come. The UK now finds itself in a position where our future success relies entirely on how much, and how quickly, we can distance ourselves from the EU. The more we extract ourselves from aspects of our new ‘partnership’ with Brussels, the more freedom we will have to do what is in our best interests.
There have been rallying cries from the fishing industry of an outright betrayal, and of having given too much away to Brussels. The government has defended this position and has said that it will take some time to build the infrastructure that will be necessary to support a full and proper revival of the industry. In the meantime, EU countries continue to have access to UK waters while UK fishermen struggle. This is not what they were promised, and no amount of obfuscation from the government will do. More than 17million voters are watching, and we won’t be letting this go.
The contentious NI Protocol is also facing a challenge in the courts, spearheaded by ex-Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib and supported by Baroness (Kate) Hoey. The government knows that Brexiteers will not sit back and allow the EU to use NI as a battering ram against us for ever. We have long memories, and we will not rest until our withdrawal from the EU is complete. The current position is acceptable as a means to an end, but we will never accept it as an end in itself. The distraction of Covid-19 won’t be around for ever, but Brexit supporters are going nowhere.
The greatest irony of the efforts of our own saboteurs to force a poor Withdrawal Agreement upon us, in the hope of keeping us closely aligned with the EU, is that it has had the very opposite effect. The Withdrawal Agreement is not sustainable, and nor is the Northern Ireland Protocol. Further distance from an intransigent EU is now the only way forward if the UK wants to succeed as a global trading nation. We CAN do it. What’s more, we’ll be doing it as one whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.