As of 11 o’clock tonight, the United Kingdom ceases to be a member of the European Union. I have not followed the minutiae of the process, since I find it rather exhausting and infuriating. Despite such apathy, I decided to make a note or two, as it is one of those dates that will be recorded in the annals of British history. Even though it is a momentous day, not much will actually change: life will go on, almost unchanged, as the transition period begins. The day-to-day life might not change, yet the UK will no longer be present in the EU Council, Parliament, or Commission. The UK is going to be a rule-taker without representation for at least 11 months. The realilty will start to bite at some point. Arguably, the real and tough process of Brexit starts now. The futures of Britons will be determined in the coming months.
The politics in the UK is such that the awesome and awful task of establishing future relationship with the EU falls to Boris Johnson and his government. There is no more a recalcitrant parliament to contend with, at least in Westminster. As it were, he has to own Brexit. There is no hiding place for him, not even a fridge. It remains unclear what that future will look like. To diverge or not to diverge? It would seem that the Government is leaning towards divergence. Without divergence, people may wonder what the point of leaving the EU was. Yet, so long as the EU remains a large export market for the UK, manufacturers need to satisfy the EU standards and regulations. And in other aspects where the UK Government weakens safety standards and regulations, such as chlorinated chickens or environmental protection, will that be supported by the people?
Opposition, bothersome for Mr Johson, will likely come from the devolved authorities, and in particular from Scotland. The UK’s departure from the EU may well threaten the integrity of the UK. The Scottish Government and Parliament will probably attempt to claim a stake in the process in matters they argue are devolved, which will then be rebuffed by London as being reserved to Westminster and that in turn will fuel resentment in Holyrood, and perhaps lead to more support for independence. It is, depending on one’s political stance, a vicious or virtuous cycle.
The time is short: the UK Government must soon decide what it wants and formulate its priorities clearly, especially as it does not want to extend the transition period. It also needs to decide with whom to negotiate for trade deals whilst negotiating with the EU. Such negotiations are unlikely to be easy, unless the deals are so advantageous to the other parties. It is not as if the UK can send gunboats around the seven seas as a means of effective persuasion. Britain is no longer an empire, yet one of the dangerous aspects of the whole Brexit process has been what may be termed as delusion of grandeur and self-importance in some quarters. It is going to be tough for the UK, and one has to wonder whether the UK as a country is ready psychologically for the upcoming bruising encounters.
Today marks the end of the beginning. The country remains deeply divided and many issues will be seen through the prism of Brexit, even when such may not be warranted. What future holds for the UK? It is anyone’s guess.