Blog: Doug Marr: Yes, we’ve all been done by Brexit, but it’s far from done and dusted – HeraldScotland

A reader kindly provided some feedback on a recent piece. Why, he asked, am I still obsessing about Brexit when it’s “done and dusted”? It’s true we’ve all been done by Brexit, but the dust is far from settled. In fact, it’s impossible to grasp current and future challenges without placing them in the context of Brexit.

At the most basic level, Boris Johnson believed hitching up to the Brexit bandwagon might just open the way to Number Ten. How right he was. Despite being totally unfit for office, he washed up in Downing Street on a high tide of lies and half-truths. In 2016 for example, en route to the sun-dappled uplands, Mr Johnson assured the gullible that post-Brexit, “fuel bills will be cheaper for everyone”. When you receive your next heating bill, you will certainly want to “take back control” – of your thermostat.

In the short term at least, Brexit saddled us with a prime minister who believes ethics is a county in south east England. From the outset, Mr Johnson has been in the pocket of the ethically and intellectually-challenged who are nevertheless sharp enough to realise that Brexit meant the end of tiresome EU regulation and restrictions on working conditions, hours and wages. Their natural entitlement to loads of money, much of it hidden offshore, would be restored. In that environment chumocracy and the crony virus flourished. Billions of pounds for overpriced PPE were siphoned into the accounts of the morally bankrupt who ripped off the NHS and the taxpayer. From there it’s a straight line back to the future and the present re-emergence of shameless sleaze and an on-the-take culture.

The cultural dementia of Brexit and the myth of “Global Britain” continues to further weaken the UK’s standing in the world. Equally mythical is the supposed special relationship between the UK and the US. Its delusional nature was apparent as far back as the late 1970s when West German Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt observed acidly, the relationship was, “so special that only one side knows it exists”.

A couple of weeks ago the New York Times asked, “What is Brexit? And How Is It Going?” The piece concluded the fallout from Brexit is certainly not done and dusted: “Far from closing the book on Britain’s tumultuous relationship with Europe, it has opened a new chapter that could reshape not only the country’s economy, foreign policy and politics, but even its borders.”

As far as the economy is concerned, it’s a mere four years since Liam Fox assured us a trade deal with the EU should be “one of the easiest in human history”. Aye, right. Barack Obama was spot on predicting a post-Brexit UK would be at “the back of the queue” for a US trade deal. The political implications of the Northern Ireland Protocol and possibly triggering Article 16, will only stiffen President Biden’s insistence on preserving, above all, the Good Friday Agreement.

The truth is that Mr Johnson, Brexit and misplaced belief in British exceptionalism have made jokes of us all. Even the Office for Budget Responsibility is sceptical about Global Britain, and expects “few gains” from trade deals. The rest of the world sniffs the scent of desperation. British negotiators will be perceived much as naïve tourists wandering down Barcelona’s Las Ramblas with wallets protruding from their hip pockets.

The recent trade deal with Australia shows the way the wind is likely to blow. At a time of climatic crisis, is it sensible to abandon trade with those nearest at hand in favour of deals requiring movement of foodstuffs half way round the world? If the geographically challenged trade secretary Liz Truss, thinks so, she does well to find her own way home from the office.

Ms Truss also believes antipodean deals won’t harm UK farmers’ livelihoods. As Mandy Rice Davis nearly put it, “She would, wouldn’t she?”. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board is less sanguine about the deal, recognising the benefits for cheese exporters but noting the uplands will be less sunny for those facing increased volumes of imported lamb and beef.

It’s schadenfreude I know, but it’s difficult to feel much sympathy for disgruntled farmers and fishermen. For decades they fulminated against the EU’s agricultural and fishing policies, but they’re still not happy. What parts of the Brexiters’ promise of cheaper food did they not understand?

As the New York Times pointed out, the shock waves from Brexit could impact significantly on UK borders. Widespread and continuing dissatisfaction with the Northern Ireland protocol, combined with demographic change in the north, has brought Irish reunification several steps closer. Scottish antipathy towards Brexit and Tory entitlement at Westminster, is unlikely to diminish any time soon.

As long as he remains in office, Mr Johnson will be the SNP’s biggest vote winner. Nationalists worry however, that the men in grey suits could soon call at Number Ten to break the news to “good old Boris” that he has become an electoral liability.

All in all, Brexit is far from done and dusted. Its reverberations will continue to set the economic and political agenda for the foreseeable future. Most Remainers have accepted that Mrs May was right, and “Brexit did indeed mean Brexit”.

Nevertheless, the stability and benefits of 50 years of EU membership must be defended in an age of fewer safeguards and weaker regulation. As Alistair Campbell put it in a recent article in The European, “The next decade has to be the one when the populist tide turned.”

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.

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