By Paul Giles

Windsor Castle – Image by Roman Grac from Pixabay 

Arrangements that benefit none of the parties involved normally sink under the weight of their own contradictions. In the case of Brexit, the Government finally ran out of lifebuoys on Wednesday 22 March.

Although the Brexit foundations were severely shaken by Daily Telegraph’s 13 February article “Brexit is Finally Dead”, itself inspired by the 11 February Ditchley Park cross-party “Brexit Failings” meeting, 22 March delivered the coup de grace.

Leading up to the date, the 26 February Windsor visit by EU President Ursula Von der Leyen threatened to usher in a new era of UK/EU co-operation, the catalyst for this being the resolution of the three-year old problems with the supposedly “oven-ready” Northern Ireland Protocol.

Subsequently enshrined in the Windsor Framework, this policy directly embarrassed those whose words and actions of antagonism were the basis of Brexit in 2016. Initially promoted through scapegoating the EU for all of the UK’s problems, the “Global Britain” deception was kept dangling through ‘jury’s out’ types of aggressive government language.

Accordingly the old guard, which included the two immediately previous UK prime ministers, orchestrated a month of frantic retaliation. Lifebuoys finally ran out, however, on 22 March, when only 29 MPs voted against the framework.

Headlines on 22 March claimed “Brexit is Done” aka “A Farewell to Arms”. Well, not quite. A better headline would be “Brexit (as per the Original Fostered Fantasy) is Done For”. But voters don’t need to know that(!).

Through co-operation, the government are now free to enact a decades-long process of quietly dismantling Brexit’s worst commercial constraints … without using the actual dreaded “B” word. Although the UK is unlikely to regain all that it lost in 2016, we can start to limit the damage.

The PM’s political party, however, is enjoying a positive “Brexit is Done” post-22 March poll reading. This is even though many Leavers responding positively to the poll may not have twigged the “Done For” reality. All but written off at the end of 2022, the party now has a chance of re-election.

It’s a poser though for the opposition parties. Whilst the vast majority of Westminster and Whitehall have for some time been only too aware that Brexit can deliver no UK benefits, the topic has been the “Pachyderm in the Parlour”, i.e. never discussed. Opposition leaders believed they already had the votes for a likely 2 May 2024 general election without risking the hysteria invoked through anything more than the briefest mention of the “B” word. Having previously gone only as far as “a better deal” and/or “better co-operation with the EU” the rug has been slightly pulled from under them. Going forward, they will have to be more explicit in their explanations of where their policies differ.

So what was it all for? Brexit’s the classic lose-lose project, i.e. no party is happy with the outcome. Those who promoted Leave have ended up with just a poorer version of what they already had. Rather than this outcome, some Leavers – we will never know what proportion – likely saw Brexit as enabling the low-tax, small state “Singapore on Thames” nirvana even though such was all but absent from the Leave propaganda. The Truss Government had a go, through the mini-budget, of moving towards just that but lasted just 49 days; as a result any “SoT”-type policy now has no voter support.

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