Reviewing UK politics in 2019 – Brexit means ???

2019 has been a rollercoaster of a year in UK politics. There have been several themes throughout the year, including Brexit, the environment, the NHS, the General Election and the nature of the political debate. In the first of this series, the focus is on Brexit.

The B-word has dominated the conversation. The year began with the UK due to leave the European Union in March 2019, which was then gradually pushed as far as January 31st 2020. It has also claimed one Prime Minister in the process. After unsuccessfully getting her deal through Parliament three times, beset with difficulties from her party and others, Theresa May called it a day and Boris Johnson took over in a generally predictable Conservative leadership contest.

Johnson then faced challenges of his own and was able to negotiate a “better” deal (one that economic forecasts show is probably going to be worse). This deal faced challenges of its own, and although it passed its first stage in Parliament without an election, Johnson refused to give sufficient time for scrutiny and had to extend the Brexit deadline – something he promised would not happen.

Looking more deeply at this, there is a sense of weariness towards Brexit, as it has been all that many news outlets and commentators appear to have talked about. Many may have decided that the most expedient way to escape it is by accepting a less than ideal deal which was negotiated in a matter of weeks. Furthermore, this focus on Brexit has happened at the expense of other pressing concerns such as the environment and the health service.

It has also highlighted difficulties among all of the political parties. On the left, Labour has struggled to balance the coalition of voters it had come to rely on since the late 90s, and this led to an ill-conceived policy around a final say referendum that engaged one part of this coalition and switched off another who associated this with further delay.

In the centre, the Liberal Democrats sought to stand out by proclaiming “Bollocks to Brexit”, which made many question the “Democrat” part of their party nomenclature. This illustrates the problems of implementing a direct democracy decision (i.e. a referendum) with representative democracy (i.e. Parliament).

On the right, the Conservatives were under pressure from The Brexit Party to move their policy positions and after the European elections knew something had to change, given the success of Farage’s new organisation. It also really started to draw attention to dissension within Conservative ranks, and this was most profound when working out a solution to the Irish border, where the belligerent European Research Group refused to back any deal without approval from the Democratic Unionist Party.

In 2020, far from Brexit being signed, sealed and delivered on the 31st January, the second, more complicated stage of talks begins to establish the future relationship between the UK and EU. The deadline is tight, with Boris Johnson claiming that there will be a deal finalised before the year is out. Yet, most experts doubt this is possible, given the immense scale of regulations, logistics and EU/UK procedure. It also raises the prospect of a so-called “clean break” WTO-rule Brexit rearing its head again. The Prime Minister could be on a course to disappoint the voters who “lent” him their trust by not acknowledging the gargantuan effort required.

On the EU side, there are already indications that they will not make things easy and will use a range of powerful tactics to ensure the EU’s interests are protected, regardless of whether they are at the expense of the UK, illustrated through recent negotiations with Switzerland. With the tight deadline and pressures associated, will the UK have the ability to say no, given the high stakes involved?

7 thoughts on “Reviewing UK politics in 2019 – Brexit means ???

  1. I know very few people who are weary of Brexit! In our village folks have been re energised by Boris, we are looking forward now to a very different negotiating environment and a very positive outcome. Why not indeed?

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    • Thanks for your comment!

      That’s an interesting perspective, I imagine the weariness element varies depending on local factors. I have spoken to many people on both leave and remain sides who have said they feel things have been a bit drawn out. Another thing is that an implication of Boris’ campaign slogan ‘Get Brexit Done’ is that it has taken a while, which I imagine did have some appeal in some constituencies.

      It’s good to hear that there is a sense of things being re-energised, the question is really whether there is enough time for the negotiations to be completed in a way that ensures the UK keeps significant benefits, when EU negotiations have a reputation for taking quite a while, even where there may be close alignment already. Then again, anything could happen in the next year!

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      • Thanks Kieran. 🙏 You’re right I think that there is a local or geographical effect, also a Leave-Remain variation too. I grew up in a Cumbrian working class village and low live in a prosperous Cotswolds village, same sentiment in both though. The folks I talk to here have an element of “revenge” in their thinking, not towards Remain voters, but towards the EU who have insulted us and made preposterous demands for 3 years. And ….. they are still making threats. There must be a quid pro quo in the next 12 months that respects the “triple lock” of controlling our borders, our laws, and our money. There can still be equality in alignment though, provided the EU realise that for every demand they make about our agreeing certain standards re trade for example, there are standards of OURS that they must follow too. What cannot be a bargaining chip though is access to fishing within U.K. territorial waters, that is something we MIGHT grant them provided they pay us £39bn per annum😂😂

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      • Interesting comment – quite a few things we can discuss here at length but I shall try and keep it brief.

        In terms of the “revenge” element you have mentioned, what do you believe they have done which has been insulting and preposterous? Feel free to disagree with me here, but the perception I have is that many (not necessarily all) EU members are keen for Brexit to be done with as it has been taking up a lot of time which they would have preferred spending in another way.

        The second thing you mention is standards. As we are still technically a member state, in theory, we should have virtually the same standards in place. Also, you mention the £39bn figure, which as far as I understand is to pay any outstanding debts that we owe.

        I guess both on the UK and EU side, there are going to be a lot of things up for discussion!

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      • One example of an insult, but there have been many : “ there’s a special place in hell for Brexiteers ……” Donald Tusk
        Regarding the £39bn I know what that is for, I merely used that figure as a “trigger” to say that if France wants access to our fishing waters they must pay us. It cannot be part of a deal, just as we must pay for German cars or french wine.
        I think the only preference of the EU has been to delay. If they had an ounce of sense they would have insisted on our parliament agreeing the existing WA back in October and refusing the extension. They’ve blown it because they are now facing a determined Leave massive majority in Parliament.

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      • Oh yes, I had forgotten about that Donald Tusk comment! Not well-judged at all.

        That makes more sense on the £39bn figure, just needed to clarify that a bit for myself.

        What will be interesting to see in the next phase of negotiations is whether the change of Parliament will affect their approach at all, or whether it stays as it was before.

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