Brexit: Two Years On
It is two fateful years since the UK formally released itself from the manacles of political enslavement to the European Union. The promises made in the 2016 campaign could finally be realised, as the UK was now free to pursue its own bold destiny away from the bureaucratic, anti-democratic and increasingly despotic EU. However, has the UK trod this Road to Damascus as promised, or has this journey been akin to the Apollo 13 crisis, with scandal and division rocking the government to a policy standstill? In this article I will explore the legal, political and medical ramifications of the UK leaving the EU. And yes, I will address the elephant in the room now- the economic implications. It is extremely difficult to untangle the effects of the pandemic from that of leaving, and so rather than go for a deep dive on interest rates and mind-numbing GDP prediction, I will leave such tedious analysis for a later date.
The greatest promise sold to the British public since the 1975 referendum campaign was that by leaving the jurisdiction of the Europeans, the British parliament could finally regain its sovereignty. This would essentially reinforce the democratic nature of UK law, as elected officials would once again have undisputed legislative authority, without having to suffer from the arbitration of a foreign court ruling. However, has this promise been fulfilled? Was it too simplistic? Not quite, and yes. Within or without the EU, UK law is subordinated by the European Court of Human Rights, and it is this body which has so often ruled against UK immigration and asylum policy that stymies government legislation. Yes, we are now free from the shackles of the European Court of Justice, the frequently cited villain of the 2016 Leave campaign, however, unless a new bill is passed through Westminster that disentangles the UK from its signature to the European Convention of Human Right (perhaps by passing a new Bill of Rights to circumvent the Convention), then we will remain under its jurisdiction. This is a crucial issue regarding full legal sovereignty. As the Messiah of Brexit (Nigel Farage) has so often pointed out over the past couple of years, it is the ECHR that is consistently blocking Home Office attempts at deporting illegal immigrants. Immigration was of course one of the foundational pillars to the success of the Leave campaigns, with the promise of full control of our borders chiming very well with vast swathes of the country. Hence, to fulfil this destiny promised to us nearly six years ago, the UK government must go one step further to regain its full legal autonomy, and legislate a new Bill of Rights to supersede the Convention.
Yet one unarguable way in which the UK has boomed since leaving the EU is in relation to medical policy, particularly within the context of responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The UK opted out of joining the European vaccine research programme, something which was decried 18 months ago, yet should now be lauded for its boldness and success. Britain has always had higher vaccine rates for first, second and third doses than any other major EU economy. Our vaccine rollout programme from December of 2020 led the world alongside that of Israel and the UAE. Therefore, with the success of our vaccines, the UK government was emboldened to take the country out of its restrictions before any other major EU economy. This will inevitably have knock-on effects on GDP growth over the next several years. It is unfathomable for us here on this sceptred isle to imagine still being kept under the draconian lockdown policies of France and Germany, with violent protest sweeping the streets. GDP forecasts show that those countries still clinging to ineffective lockdown policies will suffer in the long term. The EU is thus a doomed enterprise due to its short-sighted and harmful approach to dealing with the pandemic, with Britain having essentially cut itself loose from the millstone dragging it under the waves.
Furthermore, the political freedom that the UK has granted itself has allowed policy to progress out of the quagmire of Leave vs Remain divisions. The Johnson government has been able to dedicate time to the development of legislation without it being brought into the Brexit divide in Parliament. In the two years since Brexit, the Johnson government has already out-legislated May’s government which had terminally suffered from the over-focus on the European question and a lack of party discipline. Politics has now been allowed to move on, with questions on welfare demands and the tax burden finally being brought into public discourse and debated in the public media. Most recently, a white paper has been proposed relating to the government’s ambitious ‘levelling-up’ agenda. Bureaucratic congestion caused by the morass of Brexit policy has allowed resources to be focused towards public policy and infrastructure developments. This ‘levelling-up’ agenda has seen funds prioritised for 5G broadband on a national level, investment into the railways and urban development. Regardless of partisan alignment towards these policies, it is undeniable that the progression from Brexit politics and the legislative standstill it caused, that government has been able to undertake policies to fulfil its manifesto. Therefore, two years on from the Brexit divide has seen democracy and political accountability enhanced, enabling more proactive governance of the country.
However, there is still time given in the media to the occasional deranged, retired politician promising the possibility of re-joining the EU. Men like Michael Heseltine and Sir Vince Cable can still be found harping on about the merit of the EU, and the corruption of the Brexit process. They still ally themselves to a federal Europe and further integration. These voices much quieter two years since leaving, yet they still remain, an undercurrent within mainstream UK political discourse. It remains the elephant in the room at certain party conferences. Therefore, the possibility remains in the mind of some that all this progress seen in the past two years is transient and reversable if enough political backing is given to it. Political capital can still be gained over the Brexit question, and it remains to be seen whether a commitment to re-joining the EU will be on manifestos at the next general election. The past two years have seen development and progression, but the process is not yet complete, with further reforms required to fulfil the promises of Brexit.