Blog: The biggest wins and losses since leaving the EU for Boris Johnson’s Government – iNews

Today, 23 June 2022, marks six years since Britons voted to leave the European Union by 52 to 48 per cent.

In the years that followed intense political debate between the Leave and Remain camps erupted and the divisiveness of the issue led to Theresa May’s downfall in July 2019.

But her replacement, Boris Johnson, was finally able to secure a trade deal with the EU after years of factitious negotiations and three extensions to the Brexit deadline – culminating in the UK formally leaving the bloc at 11pm GMT on 31 January 2020.

Here i takes a look at the four biggest wins and losses of Brexit so far – as the UK marks six years on from the EU referendum.

Brexit wins

Tampon tax scrapped

In January 2021 the UK abolished the five per cent rate of VAT on sanitary products – referred to as the “tampon tax”.

This was widely praised by Brexiteers and women’s rights advocates as the Government had been unable to scrap the tax while a member of the EU, as its laws prevented member countries from reducing the rate of VAT on menstrual products below five per cent as they were deemed luxury items and not essentials.

But from 1 January 2021, the end of the EU transition period, Britain was free to ditch the tax.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak had committed to scraping the tax in his March Budget the previous year.

The European Commission has now abolished the tax, effective from April 2022, and allowed member states to lower the rate to less than five per cent.

As a result, critics point out the tax would have been abolished regardless of Brexit.

£350 million a week for the NHS

One of Vote Leave’s overriding messages was that leaving the EU would enable the Government to give the NHS an extra £350 million a week.

The slogan “we send the EU £350 million a week – let’s fund our NHS instead” was emblazoned on the side of the bright red Brexit bus.

But this sum was a gross rather than a net figure, and the UK’s net contribution to the EU budget was more like £230 million a week.

Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London and Gisela Stuart, lawmaker for the Labour Party, pose for photographers during the first day of a nationwide bus tour to campaign for a so-called Brexit in Truro, U.K., on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. While online polls suggest the contest for the June 23 referendum is too close to call, less frequent telephone polling has put the "Remain" camp ahead. Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Boris Johnson and the Brexit bus (Photo: Getty)

The sum also failed to take into account the £34bn divorce bill and the preparations for Brexit.

However, in 2018 Theresa May did increase the NHS budget by £20bn a year by 2023, which she claimed would provide an uplift of £600 million a week in real terms by 2023-34.

But this increase actually had nothing to do with Brexit and was announced before the UK had even left the EU.

This promise was therefore delivered, but it cannot necessarily be credited to Brexit.

Ending free movement and controlling immigration

Ministers were able to end free movement with the EU, which meant citizens from the Continent are not treated the same as others from the rest of the world.

Mr Johnson hailed this as delivering on his promise “to regain control our border” and allow the country to decide on arrivals depending on their skills and what they can offer the UK.

The UK now has a points-based immigration system, which means anyone coming to the country must meet a specific set of requirements for which they will score points. Visas are then awarded to those who gain enough points.

But there have been huge increases in the number of non-EU migrants coming to the UK to work in the first year of Britain’s new immigration system.

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Official figures show that in 2021, 239,987 work-related visas were granted, 25 per cent higher than in 2019 – the last full year before the pandemic hit.

Less than a tenth were EU migrants.

The number has soared because the points-based system has opened up half of all jobs in the UK to foreign workers, by lowering salary and skill thresholds for migrants.

The Government has also failed to crack down on illegal Channel crossings, which have soared in recent years.

In 2021, the number of people who crossed the English Channel in small boats was treble the number for 2020. At least 28,431 migrants made the journey in 2021, up from 8,417 the previous year.

More than 10,000 people have crossed the Channel so far this year.

Officials hope its new Rwanda deportation scheme will drive the numbers down.

Take back control of our waters

Increasing fishing rights was a major plank of Vote Leave and though the industry is fairly small – contributing less than one percent of the UK’s GDP in 2019 – it proved to be of huge symbolic importance.

When signing the post-Brexit trade deal on 24 December 2019, Mr Johnson said: “For the first time since 1973, we will be an independent coastal state with full control of our waters.”

The new Fisheries Act allows the UK to chart a coarse as an independent coastal state and increase the quotas of British fishermen.

The shift in the share will be phased in between 2021 and 2026, with most of the quota transferred in the first year.

EU member states also requice licences to fish in UK and Jersey waters and the UK will have the right to completely exclude EU boats after 2026.

But the bloc could responsd by denying UK boats access to EU waters.

Taking back control of UK waters was hugely popular during the Vote Leave campaign and won over much of the fishing industry.

However, some remain unhappy with the deal reached and believe it didn’t go far enough.

Brexit losses

End European Court of Justice jurisdiction

Brexiteers had vowed to call a halt to the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) – the EU’s highest legal authority – but this has not come to fruition.

The ECJ effectively acts as a supreme court to ensure EU laws are applied in the same way across all member states.

It played a central role in the Leave campaign, as Brexiteers promised to “take back control” by ending the EU court’s jurisdiction.

The ECJ’s jurisdiction over the UK came to an end from the start of 2021, but it still has a role to play in Northern Ireland.

This is because the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was agreed by both the UK and EU and signed into international law, stipulated that Northern Ireland would remain inside the EU’s customs territory and therefore the country would continue to abide by the EU’s single market rules.

The Protocol states that representatives from the EU have the right to oversee its implementation and application.

It also states that the ECJ has jurisdiction to rule on matters of EU law in Northern Ireland.

If there was a dispute around compliance with applicable EU law, Brussels could take the UK to the ECJ, which would rule on whether the UK was in breach of its obligations under the terms of the protocol.

This means that if a case were brought before the ECJ, the UK would have to participate in the proceedings in the same way as an EU member state – despite having quit the bloc.

Cutting VAT on energy bills

Leading Tory Brexiteers used the issue of VAT throughout the campaign and said quitting the EU would give Britain the power to reduce energy bills due to being free of EU competition laws.

Mr Johnson often used the example of VAT when campaigning, and previously said: “As long as we are in the EU, we are not allowed to cut this tax.

“When we Vote Leave, we will be able to scrap this unfair and damaging tax.”

At the height of the Vote Leave campaign Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and former Labour MP Gisela Stuart now Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston wrote a piece in The Sun promising “fuel bills will be lower for everyone” if Brexit went ahead.

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On 14 June, 2016, 13 Government ministers and senior Conservatives pledged to abolish VAT on household energy bills in an open letter.

But in January, the Government voted against Labour’s proposal to cut VAT on fuel bills. The Chancellor is opposed to such a move as it would benefit the wealthy as well as those in the greatest need.

Voting down the plans was criticised at a time households are struggling to pay energy bills due to the cost of living crisis.

US Trade deal

Brexiteers had boasted of securing brand new trade deals that it did not have as part of its EU membership, with a new deal with the US hailed as the most significant.

But the UK has yet to secure one with Joe Biden’s administration.

The US President has been reluctant to make progress with the UK, that had once seen a UK-US trade deal as the big prize of Brexit.

Workers rights, supply chain resilience and the environment have all proved to be sticking points in the negotiations.

As a result, Britain is now in talks with around 20 US states to secure individual trade deals and a full trade deal still looks far from reach.

But the UK has secured trade agreements with Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Brexit will be quick and easy

Those in favour of leaving the EU had boasted that Brexit would be quick and easy – which it has proved to be anything but.

During the campaign it suggested the new treaty would be negotiated within two years and before the next election – which was due to be held in May 2020.

Senior backbencher John Redwood said in July 2016: “Getting out of the EU can be quick and easy – the UK holds most of the cards.”

Fellow Tory MP Liam Fox made a similar remark a year later, and said: “The free trade agreement that we will have to do with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history.”

But the reality was that a deal was hard to agree in practice.

The UK had to secure three extensions of the Brexit deadline as the two sides struggled to agree on what terms the UK should leave the EU.

Even now, over two years after leaving the bloc, UK remains embroiled in negotiations to change the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

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