Uta Staiger, Executive Director, European Institute of UCL, UCL
On June 23, 2016, the UK went to the polls to decide the future of the country’s EU membership.
The vote to leave the EU – decided by a slim but final majority of 51.9% to 48.1% – ushered in major constitutional, social, economic and political upheavals as the country sought to define exactly what Brexit would mean.
Five years later, here is what we have learned.
1. We know a lot more
The day after the referendum, the second most searched question on Google in the UK was “What is the European Union?” “. The most frequently asked question to the search engine was: “What does leaving the European Union mean?”
It is not entirely surprising. As it turns out, even Brexit Secretary himself Dominic Raab “didn’t quite understand” how much the UK’s merchandise trade depended on crossing the Channel. Certain expectations were therefore necessarily confused.
A bus-side pledge to use the £ 350million the UK spent on the EU to fund the NHS has turned out to be good publicity but a misuse of statistics. Yet the economic apocalypse heralded by opponents of Brexit has not materialized either.
What we learned instead was a vast array of business and governance details that we never thought we needed.
From article 50 to sanitary and phytosanitary measures, from the powers of Henry VIII to GATT XXIV, from the fish we love to eat and the type of chicken we don’t like, Brexit has been a steep learning curve for all of us.
And not all in time: underestimating Northern Ireland and the border trilemma can prove to be one of Brexit’s biggest blind spots.
2. We are still divided
The myth of the ‘will of the people’ has been a political pillar of Brexit. But if the result of the referendum was final, it showed an electorate practically divided in two. In five years, that rift between Remainers and Leavers has not dissipated. On the contrary, Brexit identities now mean more to us than partisan affiliations.
The vast majority of referendum voters stuck with their original vote – more than four in five say they would vote the same again. If the polls show a substantial majority for Remain since 2016, it is very low: the British public is still more or less divided on the question.
This was clear even in the 2019 general election, which the Conservatives won decisively under the first past the post, where 52% of the vote was cast for (opposition) parties pushing for a second referendum.
Only one problem seems to unite the two parties: a general aversion to the agreement that has been reached.
3. We trust much less
In a more complex and interconnected world, trust – in our colleagues in society, in our institutions, between governments – is essential. Confidence describes acts not yet committed but which must be reckoned with: it is a vehicle for dealing with the essential unpredictability of people and institutions.
While mistrust of the government was a major predictor of Leave voters, it also arguably fueled discontent with Parliament and the judiciary, which the Conservatives accused in their 2019 election manifesto of ” thwart the democratic decision of the British people “.
Now it is the voters elsewhere, feeling on the losing side, who are less satisfied with democratic standards.
As a result of often acrimonious negotiations, trust between the EU and the UK has also taken a hit. Both sides only told the press this month that trust is now at an all-time low and increasingly depends on good faith in how the Brexit divorce deal, including the Northern Ireland Protocol, is implemented or challenged.
A very complex governance structure with specialized committees, working groups, partnership councils and dispute resolution mechanisms will seek to alleviate the problems. It remains to be seen whether this is sufficient.
4. Brexit is far from over
Boris Johnson made the famous wish of “Get Brexit Done”. While we are well and truly out of the European Union, Brexit is far from over. Given the UK’s decision to leave the customs union and the single market, the trade and cooperation agreement is the thinnest of the deals.
It provides for duty-free, quota-free trade in all goods, but presents business, industry and Brexit watchers with a rich vocabulary of non-tariff barriers, level playing field provisions and formalities. customs.
Particularly because of this “disintegration shock”, there will be pressure (and incentives) to improve the deal. The negotiations will likely last for years, if not decades.
A particular sticking point remains the Northern Ireland Protocol – which Boris Johnson negotiated, signed, convinced Parliament to approve and won the general election, but which the UK’s chief negotiator now describes as surprisingly impracticable.
The protocol is the Brexit conundrum in a nutshell: until we reach an agreement on its implementation, Brexit will not be done.
5. Brexit will have lasting effects on both sides
During the last decade, the global financial crises and in the euro area have exposed the weaknesses of the economic governance of the EU; the migration crisis has highlighted the limits of intra-European solidarity, and the crisis of the rule of law in Hungary and Poland highlights its purpose as fragile.
In this context, Brexit sparked unprecedented unity among the 27 – but also, if not sufficiently, introspection: a function of longer-term dissatisfaction with the nature of the union.
Having lost a key Member State, the EU will not only have to face a changed internal landscape, but also redefine its complicated and not always satisfactory relations with its neighbors and partners.
On the UK side, Brexit heralded what some have called a “constitutional moment”.
We have seen an increasingly strained relationship between parliament and the executive, antagonistic relationships with decentralized governments, and an ongoing discussion about the role of the courts.
How the government uses its new regulatory powers could change the shape of the UK state as well.
As for the future relationship between the two parties, they are still being defined.
Yet the geographical proximity, the volume of trade, the importance of the ‘EU’s orbit’ and the very entrenchment of our ties mean that the UK will not float in the Atlantic.
We will argue with each other, and with ourselves, for some time to come.
Click here to read the original article on The Conversation
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