Four years, eh? It seems like another world, and who knew where we would be four years thence?
Four years ago, on 23 June 2016, after the slog of campaigning door to door wound up, the polls opened and closed on a knife-edge and it was decided. Four years ago I dropped my ballot in the box and wondered what I had just done, and four years ago in the evening I stood in the town hall at the count, with a red ‘Vote Leave” badge in place of my accustomed rosette, chatting amiably to my MP, whom I always liked, as a television in the next room announced the results coming in from Sunderland and the great northern towns, watching the colour drain from his cheeks and stifling the exultation in my own. He is gone now too, occasionally popping up on ConHome, but the dustbin of history is cruel.
With my eyes of four years ago it is hard to believe that the United Kingdom is still bound by apron strings to the European Monster and still funding the Commissioners’ wine cabinet. We knew that there would be a transition of course – even I railed again the ‘cliff-edge’, and I wrote on the very day after the referendum result was announced about issues that still need to be co-ordinated with them over there (and which are still being argued over, amazingly).
The letter withdrawing should have been served at once, as David Cameron said he would (or since Gina Miller’s first legal action prevented it as such the letter should have been sent the moment royal assent was achieved on the Act to authorise it). The transition period should have been the two years between the letter reaching Brussels and departure, but it was a two-year procrastination.
There were mistakes made before the referendum too, and the first of them was that the Act of Parliament calling it did not say “and if the result is leave, then the Government must do all that is needed actually to leave”. The field was left open for Gina Miller’s legal action, and on that one the Court was probably right, annoyingly, just because a few words were missed from the Act. Nevertheless, the referendum was on a simple question and all sides were pledged to respect it, so they said.
What we were not to know as we punched the air in 23 June (or punched the ceiling, I understand) was the tenacity of that entrenched establishment that we railed against to obtain the vote. They were not going to give up, and would put every obstacle in the way.
It seemed so easy: vote out, get out and sign a trade deal both sides would be desperate to sign (on all the points I outlined at the time). The vote was meant to be a final resolution to a long question, letting us settle into the new normality.
We did not know, we could not guess, that it would dominate every aspect of politics, to the exclusion of all the important things Parliament was meant to be doing, for three and a half long years, destroying two Prime Ministers, two parliaments and many, many political careers.
We did not guess that those sent to negotiate with the European Union would lack the imagination to do things differently, or that some of those entrusted with ensuring an orderly exit would betray that trust and their country’s interests deliberately to obstruct the process in case the referendum result might be reversed. We did not know that a general election would intervene before time, we could not know that Members newly returned on a pledge to get Brexit done would renege at once, and come within a whisker of revoking the Brexit letter, forcing in any event repeated delays to Exit Day.
We could not imagine that British Members of Parliament, even some Conservatives, would openly conspire with a foreign power against the interests of Queen and Country. We hanged Casement for that (and damned right too).
We got there eventually, three and a half years after the vote and a couple of Prime Ministers later. I deafened the neighbours with fireworks on Brexit Night. By that time though the rockets had been waiting in the shed for a long time.
So hear we are, where we should have been years ago. Brexit is off the front pages, the doomsters have been proven utterly wrong, so I need not have hesitated over the ballot box that day: the wrecked economy has another cause. It is a new Boris age, and, when the plague has passed, it will be a very good one. By the fifth anniversary, I hope we will be wondering what all the fuss was about.
- UK-EU talks: the British proposal
- The European Commission proposal analysed
- The Political Declaration – a commentary
- Where the Remainers were right
- Brexit moments in history:
- All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class by Tim Shipman
- Brexit: Why Britain Voted to Leave the European Union by Harold D. Clarke, Matthew Goodwin and Paul Whiteley
- Brexit: How the Nobodies Beat the Somebodies by Sebastian J. Handley
- Brexit and Ireland: The Dangers, the Opportunities, and the Inside Story of the Irish Response by Tom Connelly
- Beyond Brexit by Vernon Bogdanor
- From Partition to Brexit: The Irish Government and Northern Ireland by Donnacha O Beachain
- Brexit: Its Necessity and Challenge by Tony Kosuge
- Rising Tides: Facing the Challenges of a New Era by Liam Fox
- By Boris Johnson:
- For the Record by David Cameron