The Long Goodbye
At 11 o’clock tonight GMT – midnight, Central European Time; the Brexit clock is set in Brussels – the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. After three and half years, the referendum’s mandate will have been discharged. Boris Johnson will have got Brexit done. The will of the people will have been fulfilled. Leavers will have left; Remainers will no longer remain. Identities that barely existed five years ago, but which are now felt more strongly than loyalty to any political party, ought to find new names for themselves, though I don’t suppose they will.
Practically speaking, very little will change at the eleventh hour, as Big Ben doesn’t strike; Boris Johnson hails the ‘dawn of a new era’ (same old clichés, though); the chancellor of the exchequer hands to the prime minister a ceremonial fifty pence piece (the Brexit dividend paid in full) over a glass of sparkling English wine; the last Brexit secretary walks away with a £17,000 golden handshake; and Steve Baker, magnanimous in victory, raises a quiet glass of champagne, ‘discreetly’, out of respect to the disappointed, disenfranchised and defeated, many of whom are not only sorrowful but fearful about what comes next.
What comes immediately next is more of the same: more Brexit uncertainty as the next countdown begins, to the end of the transition period (11 p.m. on 31 December, unless it’s extended before 1 July); more poverty, as Johnson abandons his promises to end austerity, instead demanding cuts in all departments and slashing council budgets in the seats the Tories took from Labour last month, while giving more money to Hampshire and Surrey (so that’s what ‘levelling up’ means); more waiting for ambulances; more disabled people in Britain dying of hunger; more refugees drowning in the Mediterranean. For those of us regretting the potential restrictions to our freedom of movement, it should come as scant consolation that, whatever happens in 11 months’ time, the EU’s north-west frontier will always be more open than its borders to the south and east.