Europe – January 31, 2020 wasn’t a good day for a blue flag with yellow stars. In London Parliament Square, some staunch British opponents of the European Union trampled on her while others mourned at home. In the European Parliament they sang “Auld Lang Syne” and let the British go. It’s been two years since Great Britain left the European Union – and its people are more divided than ever. How do the British, whose prime minister is fighting for his political survival, think about a 24-month Brexit and one trade deal later? A stroll through the British capital.
“I wish we were still in the EU,” says Carol Christofi of Surrey Hills, who is strolling Covent Garden Square with her husband. She voted against Brexit and is concerned about her two daughters (17 and 21) who want to pursue an international career. Only Brits with a suitable visa can live and work where you want to – this is expensive and time-consuming. The same is true for EU citizens, many of whom used to come to the UK to work. Today, Christofi notes that there is a search for employees everywhere, both in gastronomy and in retail, with signs hanging everywhere.
This also concerns Amanda Hitchcock, who quickly cures herself by smoking a cigarette on a London street. The Briton signs contracts with cleaning and security companies for a larger commercial building – or at least is trying to. “I can’t find any cleaners or security personnel with the best will in the world,” she says. “There is a huge shortage.” Hitchcock says her government has not properly implemented Brexit. “They really got us in trouble with that.” She is one of those who stayed home in the 2016 referendum. “I am very impartial,” she says.
Hitchcock is the exception, not the rule. If you ask around the British, most will have a clear opinion – although in some cases this has changed radically. “Vote for Brexit was the dumbest decision I’ve ever made. I’m so sorry for that,” admits Sam, who works in London in the cultural sector and doesn’t want his full name released. Friends and colleagues he’s met in recent years just don’t know that he voted to leave in 2016.
Sam wrote via email that he has not listened to “liars” like Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage, and therefore cannot say he lied to them. Instead, follow criticism of the EU’s agricultural policy or austerity policy toward Greece and think: “With everything I know, do I want to stay a part of it? To dream.” Today the dreams are gone. “I didn’t think about who would be responsible for leaving the EU, how embarrassing and clown they would be, how ignorant and unconcerned they would be about how the EU really works.”
In a poll conducted a few weeks ago by the Opinium think tank, more than six in ten Britons rated Brexit as negative or worse than expected. According to the Observer newspaper, which commissioned the survey, as many as 42 per cent of those who voted to leave the Brexit referendum have a negative opinion. “We are now seeing that a significant minority of exit voters say things are going badly, or at least worse than expected,” said Adam Drummond, Opinium pollster. Instead of two hard-line fronts of supporters and opponents of Brexit, even the “leave” group of voters has split.
The Brexit transition has also had a good year now, and since then the UK has been slowly getting a feel for what Brexit has meant so far – fewer employees, less choice for European products, and choppy supply chains.
Even John Jones, the Londoner, who sees great opportunities for Brexit through trade deals, has to admit that these have yet to come to fruition. The hoped-for trade deal with the United States is a long way off, and the contracts signed so far make little difference to the economy. Jones statement: “Covid has prevented Brexit.”
Nigel Hanbury, who works for an insurance company in the London financial centre, is already satisfied. “I think things are going really well,” says the 64-year-old. “Our business is thriving, but most importantly, we are free from the shackles of Europe.” He was really happy to get out. “But we still have a lot of work to do,” he admits. The government should remove regulations going back to the European Union as soon as possible. The Briton is not afraid that either Amsterdam or Frankfurt will fall behind in London’s world-renowned financial sector. “We’ve never done much profitable business with Europe anyway.”
While London deals with the fate of the country one way or another, work is already underway in the North to return to the Union. Scottish pro-independence activist Michael Gray wrote that “Brexit has damaged Scotland’s economy and our open relationship with Europe”. “The UK government may get away with blaming Covid-19 for a while, but eventually the fact that Brexit will make us poorer and more isolated will emerge.”
Scotland’s return to the European Union is considered unlikely as there are obstacles to holding a referendum and Scots are deeply divided. But if Gray and Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon have their way, their countries must vote next year on whether to secede from the United Kingdom. Next stop: the European Union.
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