LONDON: On Friday, after ending a stormy 48-year liaison with the European project, the United Kingdom started the New Year beyond the orbit of the European Union, the most important diplomatic change since the empire’s loss.
In substance, Brexit took place on Thursday at the midnight strike in Brussels, or 2300 London time (GMT), at the conclusion of a transition phase that effectively preserved the status quo for 11 months until Britain officially entered the EU on 31 January 2020.
This is a wonderful moment for this world,’ said Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 56, in his message for New Year’s Eve. We have our rights in our hands and it’s up to us to make the most of it.” For five years, European affairs have been dominated by the frenzied gyrations of the Brexit crisis, buffeted the sterling markets and tarnished the reputation of the United Kingdom as a reliable pillar of Western stability.”
Brexit was cast by proponents as the dawn of a newly independent “global Britain,” but the drama eroded the ties linking England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
One of the most critical developments in European history since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, after all the vitriol, occurred with no fanfare: the United Kingdom slid away, veiled in the silence of the crisis of Covid-19.
There were few overt signs of emotion as the Great Bell known as Big Ben tolled 11 from a scaffold on Thursday night with gatherings outlawed in London and much of the world due to increasing rates of infection.
As EU representatives and people bade farewell, Johnson said that there would be no bonfire of legislation for the building of a “Dickensian Britain bargain basement” and that the nation would remain the “primary European civilization.”
But Johnson, the face of the Brexit movement, has been short on information on what he aims to build for the “independence” of Britain, or how to achieve so when borrowing record sums to pay for the Covid-19 crisis.
His 80-year-old father, Stanley Johnson, who had voted to keep Britain in the eurozone, said he was applying for a French passport to grant him rights and freedoms that were still unavailable to most British people in Europe.
17.4 million people, or 52pc, endorsed Brexit in the June 23, 2016 referendum, while 16.1 million, or 48pc, supported remaining in the bloc. Few have since altered their minds. England and Wales opted out, but Scotland voted in, as did Northern Ireland.
Schottland, Europe, will be returning shortly. Keep on to the sun,’ said Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Thursday.
The referendum showed that the United Kingdom was much more polarised than the European Union, which fueled the soul’s quest for everything from secession and immigration to capitalism, empire’s legacy and what it meant to be British today.
Once upon a time, leaving was the far-fetched idea of a motley band of Eurosceptics on the fringes of British politics: as the sick man of Europe, the UK joined in 1973. Two decades earlier, British politicians proposed that they should accept the euro. They never have.
But the instability of the eurozone crisis, efforts to fully reform the EU, concerns of mass immigration and frustration with London’s politicians helped Brexiteers win the referendum with a message of patriotic, if elusive, optimism.
Johnson, who took power in 2019 and, against the odds, clinched a Brexit withdrawal arrangement and a trade pact, as well as the highest Conservative parliamentary majority since Margaret Thatcher, said, “We see a global future for ourselves.”