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    Brexit Referendum – Half a Decade has passed, and Global Britain is Weaker than ever before

    July 2021

    Ever since the nation of Brexit was conjured up by English nationalists’ intent on cutting the United Kingdom’s ties with the third largest trading bloc in the world, part of the reasoning offered up would be that Britain could once more find its own place on the world stage. Life after the European Union would begin a new era of Global Britain, projecting British might and right around the world.

    The veneer of that notion has in my opinion well and truly faded, and a vote earlier this month in the House of Commons underscores that Global Britain is not in the business of helping millions of the most desperate and desolate people on this planet now – or for any time in the near future.

    The Government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a Commons vote to lock in cuts to its foreign aid programme, keeping the future budget at 0.5 percent of national income, down from the 0.7 percent level that had long been a cornerstone of conservative policy. One would, of course, expect a government with a majority of some 80 seats to win Commons vote as a matter of course, but there was a significant rebellion with the party’s membership. Johnson’s majority was just 35 votes – with even some of the most ardent Brexiteers such as former Brexit minister David Davis and former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt opposing the move. Johnson’s advisers were so afraid of defeat on this sensitive and emotive topic that they only announced plans for the vote less than 24 hours before it was held, catching the rebels and dissenters off guard and giving them little time to engineer a potential and embarrassing defeat for the government.

    Now, half a decade has passed since the anger and jubilation that had divided the United Kingdom after 52 percent of Britons voted in favour of Brexit and to leave the European Union. That referendum day and the astonishing turn of events that have occurred since then have in my opinion been traumatic, chaotic and polarizing, effectively ending the careers of two prime ministers, purging the government and conservative party coterie of experienced cabinet ministers and senior officials, severing the political and economic ties with the third-largest global trading bloc on its doorstep, sowing the seeds of anti-London sentiment in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and largely wrecking the centuries-old reputation of Britain for abiding by its word on the world stage.

    Yes, I agree, Boris Johnson got Brexit done. But for the UK citizens – was it really worth it?

    Five years ago, no one – even the most ardent supporter of “going it alone” – could not have had a clue about what this in my opinion misguided and English nationalist crackpot idea would have if they actually approved this measure at the ballot box. I can’t tell you how often I have heard since that campaign half a decade ago such sentiments expressed as “ok, the politicians lied to us” or “we didn’t know that that’s what Brexit would mean”.

    David Cameron – remember him? – took a gamble the year before when he offered Scottish voters a referendum on independence. That was ultimately rejected but has done nothing to ease the clamor for the nation of 5.5 million to go their own way. And last month, as England played Scotland in the European Championship tournament, some 40,000 Scots descended on the British capital like an invading army from the far side of Hadrian’s wall. The 0-0 draw was treated like a victory, a small payback for that referendum defeat from a pulsating, cheering mob that has a newfound pride in their nationality. The Scots have won before at Wembley and sooner rather than later, in a large part because of Brexit and England’s decisive support for leaving the EU, the Scots in my opinion will win their independence.

    Cameron believed that a referendum on Brexit could also be won when push came to shore. Instead, the morning after that result, he slinked from Downing Street No.10, not having the fortitude to see through what he started. Before Brussels was even informed formally of the Brexit result more than one year later, Theresa May was leading a bitterly divided cabinet, a nation in the throes of recrimination, and charged with fulfilling a popular political mandate that no one had a clue what it actually meant.

    At the cabinet table sat experienced political personnel such as Kenneth Clarke, Phillip Hammond and Jeremy Hunt. More than 40 cabinet ministers came and went between the time of the referendum and end of May’s ill-fated term. If that’s not a clear definition of political chaos and division right at the very heart of the UK government – with Brexit to blame – than what is it?!

    Who can forget the on-again, off-again talks between Brussels and London, where it, in my opinion, seemed as if London had no idea of what it wanted, how to achieve it and Brexiteers were still engaged in a civil war over “Brexit means Brexit” – whatever that meant? – or whether the Brits “could have their cake and eat it too” – whatever that meant.

    Let’s also not forget that May’s government depended on 10 Democratic Unionist MPs from Northern Ireland for support, and it was they – and their party’s absolute and historic rejection of any concession towards Irish nationalism – that in my opinion ended the best hope of compromise on the vexing question of how the UK would deal with the EU across the only land frontier between the two.

    Fast forward five years later, after Johnson recklessly drew a customs border down the Irish Sea, casting Northern Ireland into a union with the EU, the province is on the brink of violence, its supermarkets are struggling to receive British produce and the DUP is in absolute turmoil itself, with the last leader lasting just 21 days and its complains on the Northern Irish protocol being largely ignored in both London and an increasingly impatient Brussels.

    Who of us can forget those tortuous votes on the original Withdrawal Agreement – those meaningful votes that were rejected time and time again by parliamentarians as all tried to fully understand the, in my opinion, very serious consequences of what Brexit actually meant and how it might be affected – and effect millions on both sides of the channel.

    Let’s not forget too that during this tawdry process, Johnson was rebuked by the Supreme Court from trying to prorogue parliament itself in an ham-fisted attempt to “get Brexit done” – and misleading the monarch along the way too.

    Fishermen? The great promise of Brexit was that UK fishermen would get their waters back. What Brexit delivered was catches of fish left to rot on quaysides up and down the coast of the UK.

    Free trade agreements? Brexit meant the UK would be free to make its own agreements around the world. It signed its biggest deal with Australia in June – a deal that will add 0.5 percent to the British economy over the next 10 years. Critics of Brexit can’t help but ask too just how much of the economic malaise can be pegged on the decision to leave the EU in the middle of the worst pandemic. Leaving the EU had an immediate eight percent hit on the UK’s GDP. That in my opinion doesn’t quite equate in anyone’s books.

    Or maybe it does if you’re an ardent Brexiteer.

    I finally hope for Mr. Johnson that it has all been worth it.