Lifestyle & Culture

Brexit Diary: ‘Wait, no one told us that was going to happen’ (Actually, they did)

As we approach the sixth anniversary, it seems like the Brexit referendum took place several lifetimes ago, so we’ve forgotten most of the early details. But back in 2015 and 2016, brave Brexiteers Nigel Farage, Arron Banks and, yes, Boris Johnson were leading us to the Elysian Fields of a United Kingdom freed from the velvet tyranny of the European Union.

A few business leaders and economists tried to inject reality into the Brexit debate with warnings about the huge dent Brexit would put in the UK’s economy, but they were quickly shouted off the stage with cries of “Remoaners!” and “Operation Fear!”

Alas, business people operate on objective analysis and empirical data while Brexiteers were selling a feel-good return to Britain’s glorious past … which turned out to be the stiff upper lip England of shortages and sacrifice that followed World War II.

It wasn’t too difficult to see even in 2016 that Brexit was going to be not so much a right turn to greatness as a detour to disaster … confirmed when the people who financed Brexit, including billionaire industrialist James Dyson, pulled up sticks and moved bases of operation either to the EU or Asia.

So, we’ve created a new post documenting the glory as unrelenting waves of greatness wash over the British Isles:

• The historic legacy of Brexit might end up being be the reunification of Ireland. In elections last week, the republican Sinn Féin — which advocates a united Ireland — emerged as the largest party in Northern Ireland for the first time in its history. At the same time, the Brits are trying to craft new legislation that would essentially say, “Oh, that agreement to have customs checks on the Northern Ireland/Republic border as part of Brexit? Yeah … nah, we’re not gonna’ do that.” If the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party loses power in Belfast, a united Ireland would end the debate once and for all and put the Emerald Isle completely in the EU. This is an immensely complicated issue that could get simplified with one election.

• At the same time Ireland could reunite, Scotland is still pushing toward independence. As the BBC notes, “with the Scottish National Party already in power in Scotland, having two parts of the UK with ardent nationalists as the largest parties (in Scotland and Northern Ireland) would also create the image of a United Kingdom that has never looked less united.” Thanks, Nigel ….

The Guardian has a post about a just-released study by the University of Birmingham and Lancaster University that shows Brits living on the Continent are still fuming over Brexit and their loss of freedom of movement and voting rights. The majority of the 1,328 Brits surveyed have remained in Europe with no intensions of returning. About 30 percent still felt very or extremely emotionally attached to the UK, compared with 75 percent who said they felt a very or extreme emotional attachment to the EU, and 59 percent who felt the same in relation to their country of residence, according to the Guardian post.

• Once in a while, there is an item in the news that highlights the fact that some good came out of Brexit. For example, Politico has a post asking if Brexit helped Britain help Ukraine faster than the stumbling European Union’s response. The answer is mixed. Yes, without the endless votes and committees, Britain is moving faster to transfer weapons and materiel to the Ukrainians, and to cut off Russian oil, than EU countries. But the anti-immigrant sentiments behind Brexit make it insanely difficult for caring British families to take in Ukrainians fleeing the fighting.

• Did Putin influence Brexit? It’s a question that’s haunting the United Kingdom in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Brexiteer Nigel Farage, long in Putin’s camp, is now blaming the European Union and NATO for being mean to the Russian dictator. Oh, so mean! The former Brexit Party and UKIP chief said on 24 March that the invasion was a consequence of NATO and the EU trying to “poke the Russian bear with a stick,” according to the Independent. Nigel did admit he had been wrong earlier when he predicted that Put would never, ever invade his neighbor. Leave campaign funder Arron Banks joined in, saying the EU “stoked the fire burning in Eastern Ukraine on the Russia borders by pushing for membership and NATO expansion”. Were Farage, Banks and other Brexit leaders influenced by Russia or even funded? Multiple investigations found no direct links. But the “Russia Report” found it’s likely Moscow-based information operations through social media and Russian state-funded broadcasters like Sputnik and RT— backed up by targeted support to influential voices within UK politics – might have been a factor. BUT, clearly Banks met multiple times with Russian officials leading up to the 2016 referendum. Why would Putin support Brexit? Because it not only destabilized Europe, it removed the most potent and experienced military from the EU’s arsenal.

• Fiona Hill and Carole Cadwalladr are two modern day Cassandras warning us that Brexit was part of Putin’s Grand Plan. Cadwalladr, an investigative journalist, lit up Twitter with an epic multi-part tweet citing British-born Hill, former Senior Director for Europe and Russia at the United States National Security Council, and her observation that WWIII hasn’t just started, but started back in 2014 with Russia’s invasion of Crimea. “And this new front, the invasion of Ukraine, is not just about Ukraine,” Cadwalladr tweeted. “We are part of the plan. We have always been part of the plan. And Ukraine is not just fighting for Ukraine but for the rest of us too.”

• Boris Johnson made Brexit happen after Theresa May couldn’t. Now, Boris is prime minister of the United Kingdom as the West faces a major post-war crisis – the invasion of Ukraine by Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, who’s long said he intends to reassemble the old Soviet Union. The crisis comes as a welcome diversion for Johnson, who’s in the middle of Partygate, a seemingly bottomless bounty of revelations that he and his cronies held drunken revelries while ordinary people were locked down by Johnson’s COVID restrictions. What’s good for Boris is bad for everyone else as putting the perpetual party boy on the global stage with Putin seems more like a “The Two Ronnies” skit than geopolitical gamesmanship. Worst of all, the UK is now locked out of EU/US strategy meetings.

• To celebrate its glorious second year of freedom from EU tyranny, the Johnson Government published “the Benefits of Brexit” to general derision, even in the tabloids that had supported the leave campaign. The opening pages of the 108-page tome mentions closing borders, which has led to the ongoing labor shortage once EU citizens returned to the Balkans, and “retaining our iconic blue passports,” which the UK could have done as an EU member. In fact, Channel 4 News devoted an entire post to the absurdity of the claims, a post that ends with:

As part of a “Benefits of Brexit” report published today, the government highlighted four policies: reintroducing blue passports, using a crown symbol on pint glasses, establishing freeports, and reducing single use plastic bags. But two of these could have happened while the UK was a member of the EU – and two of them did.

iNews notes that one of the great benefits of Brexit is that “queues of lorries outside Dover are now so long you can see them from outer space.” Oh, and those new trade agreements with the US and other economies? Exactly two happened: one with Japan and one with Norway. Even the Times of London, a Brexit booster, is now wondering what happened to those benefits.

It’s come to a showdown. No! What a shocker: Multiple media sources are reporting the Johnson government is on the verge of triggering Article 16. Article 16 allows the UK (or the EU) to reject the original agreement stipulation – the Northern Ireland Protocol. The protocol means Northern Ireland, though it’s part of the United Kingdom, essentially remains part of the European Union as the gateway for goods coming into the Republic of Ireland. That protocol meant border checks for goods going into Northern Ireland from the UK, but no hard border.

Now Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is picking up where former Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost left of in late 2021, threatening to trigger Article 16. And Truss is using Marxist logic (Groucho, not Karl) to justify such a move, saying it would stop a hard border and a possible return to The Troubles. Which was the point of the whole Northern Ireland Protocol.

If the UK triggers Article 16 and voids the Northern Ireland Protocol, it could lead to a larger Brexit crisis with the EU, voiding Brexit and leaving the UK with no de jure relationship with the EU. It would also put a huge dent in the UK’s international reputation for following rule of law if Johnson pulls a “Treaty? What treaty?” ploy to a settlement the Brits agreed to years ago.

Truss is hosting EU negotiator Maroš Šefčovič this week.

Šefčovič has already warned British leaders not to go there:

Threats to trigger Article 16 “touches on the fundamentals of our relationship,” he’s quoted as saying in the Guardian. “The Northern Ireland protocol was the most complicated part of the Brexit negotiations, and it is the foundation of the entire deal. Without the protocol, the whole system will collapse.

“We must prevent that at any cost.”

As the BBC notes, far right pro-Britain elements in Northern Ireland hate what they consider a compromise of their Britishness and are ready to restart “The Troubles,” the religion-based paramilitary conflicts that cost of thousands of lives before the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

Before we wade too deeply into what is a mind-numbingly nuanced and technical diplomatic crisis, the worst-case scenario is … well, no one knows because there’s no precedent. But it’s clear the UK ends up even more isolated than it is today.

The BBC has the details if you have an hour to spend … and a stiff whisky to ease you through.

• So what will happen if the UK triggers Article 16? No one knows, and that includes Prime Minister Boris Johnson, never one for details. Dominic Cummings, former Johnson senior advisor and the guy who made Brexit possible with his understanding of social media, is now confirming what everyone suspected all along – Boris Johnson had no clue what leaving the EU customs union would mean for the UK. Cummings, who turned on Johnson after the PM canned him back in 2020 over breaking COVID regulations, blogs about insider details, iNews reports.

On his blog, Cummings revealed Lord Frost explained in October 2020 – four years after the Brexit vote – what would happen; Northern Ireland remains in the EU’s single market while the rest of the UK is out. “The PM’s face was priceless. He sat back in his chair and looked around the room with appalled disbelief and shook his head.”

Oops.

• At the august Express, editors make sure they have a regular exposé about every country in the EU being on the verge of following the UK out of the union. First it was Italy back in 2016. Then it was Greece. This time, it’s the Netherlands getting ready for Nexit. The post quotes someone we’ve never heard of saying very reliably how he saw a (secret Deep State) poll that proves 40 percent of Dutch citizens want to leave the EU. Well, Dispatches is based in the Netherlands and we can assure you the Express is plumbing new levels of absurdity. This is the same Netherlands that so far has poached dozens of banks and businesses from the UK while losing one, Royal Dutch Shell. Bloomberg has a post about Amsterdam’s resurgence thanks to Brexit.

So who has benefits from Brexit? Estonia. The NYTimes has a post about the thousands of UK-based companies that have created secondary legal registrations in the Baltic EU member country in order to keep doing business in the EU. That includes a fair number who have physically relocated, according to the Times. More than 4,000 British firms have helped to increase Estonia’s tax revenues by 60 percent compared to 2020, according to Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas.

• Is pressure mounting for a Brexit Exit? The Daily Mail, one of the British tabloids that actively advocated for Brexit (and still portrays anything European as evil) buried the results of its own poll that found that only 36 percent of Brits would vote to leave the European Union today compared to 52 per cent in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

An earlier poll found that a majority see Brexit as a failure. Media reports state that it’s difficult to find anyone from fishermen to shelf stockers who feels they personally benefited from Brexit, and many who feel their personal finances and quality of life have diminished since the UK parted ways with the world’s largest trade union. Just this week, the British music industry, which has produced mega-stars from the Beatles to Dua Lipa, warned again that barriers to performing in Europe are killing a business that depends on touring now that Apple, Spotify and other music services keep most of the profits from recording sales.

Even the staid Wall Street journal has a new post about the U.K. being left behind in a global upswing in trade, “an early sign of the challenge Brexit is presenting its economy.” When people’s lives get worse, political parties seize on the other party’s mistakes. The question is does that mean a new movement to undo Brexit is coming?

• Brexit was supposed to make Britain Eurorein, cleansed of all the Romanians, Bulgarians and Poles. Alas, getting rid of the people with actual practical skills such as butchers and slaughterhouse workers so worthy Englishmen could have their jobs has not turned out well. Apparently, those worthy Englishmen wanted no part of working in animal blood up to their ankles. So the UK is creating a new short-stay visa for butchers and people to work in abattoirs.

• If you thought Brexit was just about taking back control and getting rid of all the annoying Eastern Europeans who did all the work, well … how wrong you were! It turns out that Brexit was about creating a completely new United Kingdom! At the Conservative Party’s big celebratory conference last October, Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out his vision of a New Britain, a high-wage, high-skilled, high-productivity “and, yes, thereby a low-tax economy,” according to Sky News. Johnson’s New Britain will not depend on cheap foreign labor. That is the change Brits voted for in the 2016 Brexit referendum, Boris said. To which more than a few Brexiteers replied, “Wait … what?” Several including pro-Leave Richard Walker, managing director of supermarket chain Iceland, wondered if Johnson had noticed – or cared – that British businesses are getting hit by multiple trends including supply chain collapse and rising energy costs.

Ironically, on the day of Johnson’s “highly skilled Britain” speech, Silicon Valley chipmaker Intel announced it will not consider the UK for a new plant because of Brexit. Intel is investing up to $95 billion (70 billion pounds) on opening and upgrading semiconductor plants in Europe over the next 10 years, according to the BBC.

• The Express, which defines English chauvinism, has investigative posts digging deep into the outrage over the pain Brexit has caused English retirees living in France and Spain and beseeching Boris Johnson to just do something. It seems that once the UK left the EU, British citizens in the EU became the targets of local authorities enforcing local laws. Which The Express defines as relentless persecution, forcing British expats to get, for example, Spanish license plates for their cars or Spanish health insurance. The situation in France is even more extreme. “Thousands of British expats left in ‘precarious situation’ by French residence rules” documents how those who didn’t bother to apply for long-term residence permits are now considered outlaws.

No!

• A mere nine months into its liberation from the European Union, the United Kingdom is finding that Brexit was exactly the wrong idea at exactly the worst time. Instead of the sun never setting on robust new trade deals around the globe, the UK has managed to entice exactly one new trading partner, Norway. Now, British citizens will have unlimited access to rakfisk. But the big deal with the United States the Brexiteers including Boris Johnson promised – worth an estimated 200 billion pounds – isn’t going to happen. At least not while Joe Biden is the US president. As British Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News: “It’s just not a priority” for Biden. Could that be because Biden isn’t stupid and understands that $800 billion in trade with the EU, and therefore with Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and other economic giants, is a priority? And by the way, British exports to the Republic of Ireland fell by 2.5 billion pounds this year, according to the BBC.

• If there is any good Brexit news, it’s that – along with blue passports – the imperial system is making a comeback in the UK over the metric system. It will no longer be required that packaging/labeling include metric measurements, according to The Conversation. Of course, the problem is, an imperial gallon in the UK isn’t the same as a US gallon. And don’t get us started on how many tablespoons are in a quart.

• Those chickens … they do have a tendency to come home to roost. Some of the most adamant Brexiteers are now seeing their businesses dinged by the unintended results of closing the door to Europe. The exit of tens of thousands of people back to the Balkans and Eastern Europe has lead to labor shortages, with Britain’s supply chain struggling. That includes mega-Brexiteer Tim Martin, owner of the J. D. Wetherspoon chain of pubs, who’s having trouble getting Bud Light to his patrons because the UK is 100,000 HGV drivers short. That’s not to mention the shortage of warehouse workers and people to take up the slack in the hospitality industry.

The number of Romanian and Bulgarian workers in the UK, who used to fill lower-paid logistics and food production roles, has plunged by almost 90,000 – or 24 percent – since the end of 2019, according to the Guardian.

Now Martin and other Brexiteers are demanding Boris Johnson do something about this shocking situation and change the visa restrictions that changed with Brexit. Johnson has refused, saying all British companies have to do is just go out and recruit good British workers. Demographers say good luck with that … that the UK’s aging population is running on empty when it comes to low-skilled labor.

Now, it looks like the big Brexit payoff will be a beerless, cheerless Christmas for Brits. And Martin? Well, shame on him for not moving his business to Asia like fellow Brexiteer Jimmy Dyson. With the gates shut to the EU, Britain’s option is now, ironically, to start integrating more of the migrants arriving from the Middle East, African and Asia into the workforce. Which is doubly interesting since the fall of Afghanistan.

• The latest labor shortages have been years in the making. For decades, the United Kingdom – as part of the European Union – has relied on low-paid workers from Poland, Bulgaria and Romania to take the jobs Brits won’t do. When Dispatches staffers in England a few years ago, they found all the car washes were run by hard-working Polish entrepreneurs. Now, post-Brexit, a lot of those people have left and suddenly, there are posts on BBC, Bloomberg and other news and business websites about – get ready for it – a massive labor shortage, with more job openings in the hospitality business than at any time since record keeping began, perhaps 1.1 million.

“Is there a solution to the hospitality staff crisis?” asks a BBC headline. It turns out that Brits do not fancy 70-hour weeks for minimum wage … shocker.

The Guardian has a post, “Employers offer golden hellos of up to £10k amid worker shortage,” with the bonuses going to nurses willing to work the night shift in hospitals and care homes. So far, few takers ….

• Speaking of money, Brexit is still sorting out which city will replace London as a banking and financial transactions center post-Brexit. It looked for awhile as if Amsterdam would be the big winner. Now, London is back in the lead. Lost in the fray is the fact that Asian cities such as Singapore – where industrialist and Brexiteer James Dyson moved his operations post-Brexit – will be the ultimate Brexit winners.

From “The Conversation”:

Strikingly, we see increasing growth in Asia between 2016 and 2019 in sectors like travel, financial, IT and creative services. This includes extraordinary growth in Singapore in finance, business, insurance and pension provision, and also in China in numerous segments. It looks like nothing short of a boom.

Apparently Dyson got it just about right ….

• If there was one certainty in Brexit, it was that the United Kingdom would pay and pay bigly to leave the European Union. The final figure is 47.5 billion euros, though the Brits argue it should be less. But to everyone’s surprise, the Brits have already started paying on the installment plan.

So what would that 47.5 billion buy if it weren’t going to Brussels? Well, for starters, Boris Johnson could send a check for 8,637 euros and change to every man, woman and child in England. And let’s face it … Brexit was always about England, not the rest of the UK.

Or, the UK could use the money to pay down its 2 trillion pound debt, which represents about 84 percent of the GDP. Or it could have used the money to offset losses by British business due to leaving the world’s largest trade union. Instead, the money will go to … who knows? … making sure Victor Orbán can keep sucking off Brussel’s teat.

• The Scots are not going along quietly with Brexit. The Scottish government has just posted “Damaging Legacy of Brexit,” a detailed synopsis of a major research paper done on the damage done by leaving the European Union.

That includes:

  • a dramatic drop in trade to 237.6 billion pounds for the first four months of 2021 from 266.4 billion pounds for the same period in 2018.
  • severe impact on the food and drink sector (whisky is a major export)
  • increased costs for manufacturers attributed to additional red tape and transportation costs
  • a decline in international students and research grants

Scottish officials conclude that Brexit “doing real and lasting damage to agreed and well established governance arrangements”, undermining the Scottish Parliament and giving them renewed impetus to leave the United Kingdom.

You can download a .pdf of the full 18-page research paper here.

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