For three years, Brexit dominated the front pages of national newspapers and the headlines of TV news broadcasts. The long, torturous slog towards a conclusion to our withdrawal from the European Union was reported, the minutiae scrutinised and the soundbites replayed. Then, all went quiet. It was like the lights going out. The intense scrutiny gave way to almost total silence about the emerging realities of Brexit.
Of course, this is due in no small part to the fact that nothing fundamentally changed during the transition period. Trade continued to flow seamlessly; travel from and to the EU remained uninhibited and the supermarket shelves were replete. Then, we left the Single Market and Customs Union as part of the enforcement of an extreme Brexit even prominent Leave campaigners repeatedly swore wasn’t on the cards. Since tearing ourselves wholesale from the European fabric on 31 December 2020, the fantasy pimped by the Brextemists has been rapidly debunked by the realities of the socio-economic vandalism perpetrated by this government.
Self-imposed solitary confinement
It is a tragic fact that in some ways, the UK had to take its medicine in this regard. The Leave cabal needed to see what life looks like in self-imposed solitary confinement. Had we not taken this extreme path, the much-repeated myths about ‘sovereignty’ would have simply been repeated ad nauseam under the ‘Leave Means Leave’ banner. Remainers take no pleasure in where we are at. Despite their repeated warnings that leaving the Single Market and Customs Union would be disastrous for business and individuals alike, there is nothing to crow about. With EU citizens with settled status being interrogated at the UK border and mixed-nationality families finding their movement severely hindered, there is a very human element to this tragedy that must not be omitted from the narrative.
Johnson and co have thus far sought to bury this bad news under the COVID-19 crisis. The media have largely assisted him in achieving this as the country grapples with an unprecedented health crisis. Acute HGV driver shortages and sparsely filled supermarket shelves at have, until now, been largely dismissed as temporary, pandemic-related issues. Meanwhile, such problems are strangely absent in other European countries, themselves also struggling with the impact of coronavirus.
Sir Roger Gale
There are encouraging signs of reality dawning where it really matters, however. Just last week, at PMQs, Sir Roger Gale, MP for Thanet North raised the dilemma of hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of fruit going to waste in Kent fields. Instead of the opposition’s usual coy silence on Brexit as the root cause of the multitude of logistical crises we now face, Gale was met with cries of ‘Brexit!’ from the benches opposite. If it takes the Conservatives bellyaching about the consequences of their own misguided policies for Labour to wake up and speak out, so be it.
Many businesses of all sizes have, up to now, been reluctant to explicitly name Brexit as the cause of the plethora of issues they are facing. Perhaps, understandably, this was quite simply an acceptance of the situation they were in and a quiet determination to ‘get on with it’. However, this week saw M&S announce the closure of 11 stores in France, placing the blame for this squarely with the UK’s decision to leave the EU and with it the Single Market and Customs Union.
Alongside this was a BBC interview with a Manchester fishmonger who looked directly into the camera and assigned the responsibility for her shipping costs more than tripling to Brexit. Despite this, the version aired on the BBC at 6pm was edited to omit this part. Even now, it seems some are determined to silence the facts.
The complaints will only increase as more grace periods end and more administrative burdens hamper the flow of trade. But what we are seeing are the first green shoots of a fightback. That it has taken this level of disruption to force the obvious to be stated is trumped only by the speed at which ‘Project Fear’ has become ‘Project Here’. The UK can choose to ignore the entirely negative consequences of its geopolitical ignorance and economic recklessness. No doubt Johnson, having now established his whole political persona on a bed of Brexit lies, will continue to play to the gallery with his imperial measurements and pantomime bluster. But the truth is this; his Brexit bubble has started to deflate. It is now just a matter of time until it is as empty as the promises he made and, increasingly, the supermarket shelves we depend on.