LONDON – A birthday celebrated by supporters and ignored by pro-Europeans: exactly five years have passed since the referendum which, on 23 June 2016, challenging the polls and surprising experts, sanctioned Great Britain’s exit from the European Union.
The result, a narrow victory, had shown a country split between “Leave” and “Remain”. Five years later, the same divisions remain, but Brexit supporters have won. Their then leader, Boris Johnson, is now prime minister and delivered to his constituents the “hard Brexit” he promised, prioritizing regaining sovereignty over economic considerations.
Five years have passed but Brexit remains an open and controversial issue. The disagreement between Brussels and London over border controls in Northern Ireland is news today and there are no easy solutions in sight. Indeed, the political crisis could lead to early elections in Northern Ireland which would inevitably become a sort of referendum on the Protocol and on the agreements signed by Johnson in order to leave the EU.
A Brexit budget is also difficult because the pandemic has muddied the waters, blocking economic activity and travel. It is almost impossible to distinguish whether the British recession, the worst in over three centuries with an annual decline of 9.9% in GDP, was entirely due to the coronavirus or even to Brexit. due only to Covid-19, but it is reasonable to think that the introduction of customs controls and non-tariff barriers at the border have had their weight. As for citizens, unable to travel to popular destinations such as France, Spain and Italy due to lockdowns and restrictions, they have not yet been able to experience first-hand what the end of the free movement of persons means. on the economy and on people.
London looking for trade deals
It is too early to deliver a credible verdict. Johnson’s government, however, declares victory: the economy is restarting strongly, the collapse of trade is due only to “running-in problems”, and in any case trade with other non-EU countries will soon replace and overtake trade with Europe. The commercial agreements signed so far by sovereign London have a very limited impact and represent a tiny percentage of trade with the EU. The latest in a short series, the agreement with Australia, is worth 0.02% of GDP and has alarmed British farmers and ranchers who fear being wiped out by massive competition and less stakes on the protection of the environment and animals, use of hormones and so on.