The Long Goodbye

Thomas Jones

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.


  • 2 February 2020 at 6:33pm
    Brendan Blair says:
    Nauseating left wing drivel it’s all fantasy very few disabled people are dying of hunger and the case you’re no doubt referring to the person clearly had mental health problems and was impossible to help
    Why don’t you guys realise that when you are dissing Johnson you are crapping also on the millions of people who voted for him

    • 3 February 2020 at 1:01am
      Graucho says: @ Brendan Blair
      As I was on my travels, I didn't get a chance to thank you for the reference to the article on the 2019 election. The correlation between age and vote was quite striking. As for this topic, the success of the Canada trade agreement after a 7 year gestation was aided by the fact that the French have no desire to fish in Canadian waters. Let's see what happens with this negotiation.

    • 3 February 2020 at 9:56am
      smithjohn says: @ Brendan Blair
      'very few' - that's ok then.

    • 4 February 2020 at 12:50pm
      Reader says: @ Brendan Blair
      I wonder why someone who appears to be illiterate is writing on a blog for the London Review of Books? Is "says" a reader of the LRB? Or indeed of anything? Just asking.

    • 5 February 2020 at 12:59pm
      Reader says: @ Reader
      It may be unusual to reply to one's own comment, but when writing it, I had not read some of the other posts by "says", which are invariably sane, well expressed, moderate and in every way admirable. I can only imagine that some malign hacker must have taken over says's account and written the vulgar and foolish comment posted in his (or her) name at 6.33 pm on 2 February. To the proto-says, my unreserved apologies for criticising him/her. To the deutero-says, please stop now.

  • 2 February 2020 at 8:08pm
    Marmaduke Jinks says:
    Austerity (if, indeed, it is austerity that has contributed to some of the issues you highlight) had, has & will have nothing to do with Brexit.
    Migrants drowning in the Mediterranean had, has & will have nothing to do with Brexit.
    I propose we just get on with negotiations that allow us more easily to trade with the EU, the USA & anyone else who’s interested.

    • 4 February 2020 at 7:35pm
      P Eluard says: @ Marmaduke Jinks
      You heard it here first! European Union immigration concerns will have nothing to do with the British Exit from the European Union negotiations! Marmaduke has all the hottest takes. Also, you might have thought that taking money from ambulance and hospital budgets would increase ambulance waiting times. But you would be wrong! Wow, I learn something new every day.

    • 6 February 2020 at 1:21pm
      Marmaduke Jinks says: @ P Eluard
      I appreciate the encomium but perhaps I didn’t make myself clear; let me try again.
      The number of would-be migrants drowning in the Mediterranean was unaffected by the Brexit campaign, the actual vote and the subsequent stasis; it is unlikely to be affected by our recent withdrawal from the EU.
      Austerity as a public policy preceded all the Brexit brouhaha and its continuance or suspension will not materially be affected by our recent departure from the EU.
      I was merely trying to highlight the straw men in the original article.

  • 6 February 2020 at 10:07pm
    brummagem joe says:
    Reading English History 1914-1945 by the late A. J. P. Taylor, I came across this passage commenting on the economic/political crisis of 1931. I've paraphrased it below but have only changed five words. Sound familiar?

    "The new age got off to a good start. A crisis of muddle which no one properly understood led to a general election of unrivalled confusion. A Conservative government, which had been formed to save the the country from economic vassalage, failed to save it; presented themselves as the saviours of the country on the basis of this failure; and had their claim accepted by a great majority of the electors."

Read more