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

At the sixth anniversary of Brexit, 23 June, it seemed like the referendum took place several lifetimes ago, so we’d forgotten most of the early details. But way back in 2015 and 2016, brave Brexiteers Nigel Farage, Arron Banks and Boris Johnson were leading us to the Elysian Fields of a United Kingdom liberated 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 has 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 to the EU or Asia.

We don’t blame Jimmy because Brexit has turned out to be one disaster after another, wrecking the once-vibrant British economy. Sadly, what was sold as a defining moment in British history right up there with Trafalgar, the Battle of Hastings, the Magna Carta and the Blitz has played a role in the departure of the greatest prime minister of all time, Boris Johnson. (Winston who?)

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

• Oh, the humiliation. Paris just replaced London as the largest stock market in Europe, according to Bloomberg. Bloomberg calculates the aggregate value of British shares now stands at approximately $2.821 trillion (2.3 trillion pounds), while France’s are worth approximately $2.823 trillion.

French luxury goods company LVMH is the most valuable, with a capitalization of $360 billion. But unnoticed in all the financial chaos is that Royal Dutch Shell is now a British company, and one of the more valuable, at that.

• Remember when the European Union countries instituted post-Brexit visa rules for British residents? The Express and other pro-Brexit newspapers were outraged that European countries would exercise their suzerainty so aggressively. But they did, and now the first Brit got the boot. A British man living in Denmark is being deported from the country because he was four days late with an application to stay post-Brexit, according to the Guardian.

• Brexit was supposed to be about, among other things, jump-starting the United Kingdom’s economy by breaking away from the all the restrictions and requirements of the European Union. The UK would be free to pursue new and more lucrative trade agreements independent of those bureaucrats in Brussels. Well, that rarely happened. And when it did happen, the deals were shite, as Brits are wont to say.

Experts, including former Johnson government officials, are lining up to poke holes in the UK’s post-Brexit trade agreement with Australia, the first negotiated outside the EU. And, by the way, negotiated by Liz Truss, also known as the PM with the briefest tenure in the 300-year history of the office. Former Conservative Environment Secretary George Eustice said Truss’ deal sucked. Well, not exactly those words, but Eustice describes the deal as giving away the farm, so to speak, for the British ag sector, giving away far too much for too little in return.

• Along those same lines, the man who replaced Truss as prime minister, Rishi Sunak, is now talking about an Austerity Budget – raising taxes and slashing government funding – to see the UK through the recession it’s already in.

The Financial Times has an interesting take on that.

Michael Saunders, a former top Bank of England policy maker, warned that the UK’s whole economy had “been permanently damaged by Brexit,” according to the post, which references Saunder’s interview with Bloomberg TV. “If we hadn’t had Brexit, we probably wouldn’t be talking about an austerity Budget this week,” Saunders said. “The need for tax rises and spending cuts wouldn’t be there if Brexit hadn’t reduced the economy’s potential output so much.”

• Which came first, the Boris or the Brexit? That’s the question, isn’t it? Without an odd, unfocused character such as Boris Johnson, would Brexit ever have happened? But did the dark, chauvinistic forces that would later manifest themselves as Brexit shape Boris? And why does the United Kingdom have a such a dysfunctional generation of nihilistic leadership? Blindly ambitious Liz Truss, who so desperately wanted to liberate the richest Brits from taxation while reducing state functions to the barest services. Boris Johnson, the feckless man-child who couldn’t obey his own COVID rules. Nigel Farage, who is happy to see the UK’s economy shredded to sate some deep-seated hatred of Europe. Theresa May, the least charismatic leader the UK ever had until Truss, and the person who believes anyone who thinks they’re a “citizen of the world” is a citizen of nowhere. What dark forces shaped these populist “leaders”? Their legacy? They’ll be remembered as the people who accomplished what even Hitler and Napoleon couldn’t do … divorce the United Kingdom from a Free World that needs it to be stable and prosperous in the face of rising authoritarianism. Now the question is, is there anyone who can undo all the damage?

• After six years of Brexit chaos, you can’t blame Brits who might want to flee to a more stable – not to mention sunnier – Spain. Of course, Brexit has made that a lot more difficult. Fewer Britons are making the move because Brexit has made leaving the European Union fraught with bureaucratic red tape. In fact, in the dark pre-Brexit days of 2012, there were about 400,000 Britons registered in Spain. In 2022, the number is down to about 290,000.

• Stop us if you’ve heard this one: The “Brexit Bonus,” the immense government surplus from Brexit, were going to fund the Environmental Land Managment, or ELMs, Program. The program was going to reward British farmers who made their farms Greener while creating preserves for rare species. Surprise! Though only in office 44 days, Liz Truss scrapped the program in favor of a return to an old program that pays out regardless of what farmers do, according to the Guardian. Now, all the people who worked on the program for four years – conservatives, liberals, conservationists and environmentalists – say the end of ELMs is a major betrayal.

• Stop us if you’ve heard this one: Remember when the United Kingdom was going to become Singapore-on-the-Thames, making trade deals around the world on its own terms?

The first was going to be with the United States, where the president in 2016 was a like-minded populist fawned over by Nigel Farage, who called Donald Trump “the bravest man I ever met.” Unfortunately, Trump has a habit of never following through on promises. In fact, in 2019, the Trump Administration imposed a 25-percent tariff on Scotch whisky.

Fast forward to late 2022 and a trade deal with the U.S. is still dead. Remainer-turned-Brexiteer-turned ex-Prime Minister Liz Truss admitted not only that there won’t be a deal for years, but there aren’t even on-going talks on the agreement Brexiteers claimed would be the biggest benefit of leaving the E.U.

• A defining moment in British history deserves its own celebration, and thus Festival of Brexit was born. Like the vote it celebrates, Festival of Brexit was such a great and daring initiative, it had to be rebranded into “Unboxed.” No, we don’t know what that means, either. But we do know Unboxed – an eight-month “celebration of creativity” with 10 events across the UK – was an event like no other in that it garnered ridicule and derision from left and right as a total waste of 120 million pounds of taxpayers’ money.

The right-wing Daily Mail called it ” a pro-Remain flop” because it went from Festival of Brexit to not mentioning Brexit at all.

Marina Hyde in the Guardian writes, “The many creative happenings seem largely to have run the gamut from the deranged and poorly executed to the deranged and poorly attended.” Deranged is good, right? Of its projected 66 million audience, it drew 238,000 people nationwide, or an amazing 4 percent.

As a festival, Unboxed may have sucked. But as a metaphor for Brexit, it was a huge success.

• One tangible way to measure the success that is Brexit is increasing amount of sewage on British beaches now that the UK freed from the Draconian restrictions of European pollution restrictions. British officials have used that freedom wisely and turned a blind eye to uncontrolled dumping, resulting in contamination of some of the most popular beaches.

It turns out that pollution doesn’t stay where it’s dumped, which French officials have noticed as it seeps into their fisheries. It also turns out that polluting European waters is a violation of the “protection and preservation of the marine environment” clause in the Brexit agreement. The irony is that EU officials are threatening to sue, but not the British cities affected. And that’s what a return to greatness is all about.

Nothing screams freedom like swimming in your own sh*t.

• The latest moment of greatness Brexit has conferred on Rule Britannia involves eight-hour-long lines (“queues” if you’re British) at Dover as Brits race to vacation in the France they love to hate. Torn between campaigning for the Tory leadership and her role as a diplomat, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss decided to blame it all on the French and their post-Brexit border controls. In a mind-warping leap of logic, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the MP representing the 18th century and Truss’s most ardent supporter, accused French authorities of “sabotaging British holidaymakers’ plans.” Which leads us to wonder, were these people not paying attention with former Prime Minister Theresa May said, “Leave means leave”?

• Speaking of those vile Frogs, Brits relocating to France now have to endure a four-day, mandatory course on “how to be French.” Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse ….

• In the background of the political upheaval left by Johnson, the story Daniel Lambert is playing out in the left-wing and right-wing press. Lambert, who owns on of Britain’s larger wine wholesalers, posted on Twitter that he’s “leaving Brexitland for good.”

More than 1,000 comments and 9,500 likes later, the thread – just like the country – is split between angry older Brits telling Lambert not to let the door hit him on the ass on the way out and younger Brits saying, “See? See what Brexit has done!” It is, in short, sort of an autopsy of the patient as it dies.

• We’d be remiss if we didn’t take a moment to savor the schadenfreude. There are so many crimes and misdemeanors associated with Boris from violations of his own pandemic rules to, shall we say, less than savory characters in his administration that one almost overlooks the role of Brexit in ending his three years of governing in the sober and dignified style of Larry, Moe and Curly.

From the Washington Post opinion piece that simply nails it:

Johnson’s greatest failing is liable to be what he hoped would be his glorious legacy: Brexit … the problem for Johnson is that Brexit is doing serious and lasting damage to the British economy.

The post by Stryker McGuire (good name!) works through the Brexit chain reaction crash: The United Kingdom never got those big post-Brexit trade agreements including with the United States. Because trade is down, so is Britain’s GDP and standard of living. Real wages are down. There are shortages. The pound sterling is down against the dollar. The National Health Service is hollowed out. “If there’s an economic silver lining to Brexit, researchers scouring the data have yet to find it,” McGuire writes.

• Life is always about fundamentals. Is post-Brexit life better? That’s easy to quantify, and the answer is a clear and resounding “No.” The progressive New Statesman has a brief report that shows the British economy is trailing far behind its European rivals. 

From that post:

Per capita income has fallen by 4 per cent in real terms since the second quarter of 2016, when the vote took place, compared with 15 per cent growth in the EU, according to figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

That in and of itself should put the lie to Brexit, which promised wild economic growth for the UK once freed from EU regulations. Now, the Brexiteers are reframing and rationalizing that Brexit hasn’t been done properly. “It wasn’t just about the economy. It was about taking back control.” Well, the less economic clout you have, the less control ( whatever that means) matters to citizens who actually have to eat.

Even Boris couldn’t really come up with anything when asked to detail all the great things Brexit has wrought. Though Jacob Rees-Mogg, the MP representing the 18th century, pointed out that Brexit reduced the price of fish fingers (?) by two percent.

Well, there you go ….

• While Brexit has brought so much uncertainty, there is one little corner of the reactionary media you can always count on – the Daily Express, which has been predicting rapidly falling dominos of countries leaving the EU. The Express actually had a story based on an English guy who lives in Italy hearing from a friend who heard on a talk show how Italy would be the first to follow the United Kingdom out to freedom. No, wait, it would be Greece. No, not Greece, the Netherlands. Now, it’s France. “Emmanuel Macron facing worst nightmare as Brexit-hater may be forced into snap FREXIT vote” reads the latest headline. It quotes a “prominent Frexiteer” who is so prominent that only the Express has ever written about him. We see what you did, there. Wisely, the rest of Britain’s conservative press have very quietly pushed Brexit off their front pages and landing pages.

Hey, did you see Paulie was headlining Glastonbury!?

• Lord Hannan is in the news. No, you’ve never heard of him, but he’s a staunch Brexiteer who now has the nerve to admit the UK should have stayed in the single market. To make matters worse, another Tory – MP Tobias Ellwood –actually gave voice to the heresy that the UK might actually want to consider rejoining the single market, though not the EU, à la Switzerland.

• The historic legacy of Brexit might end up being be the reunification of Ireland. In May elections, 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.”

• 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.

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 E.U. member country in order to keep doing business in the E.U. 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 had a 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, then-PM 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!

• 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 U.K. isn’t the same as a U.S. 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, had plunged by almost 90,000 – or 24 percent – since the end of 2019, according to the Guardian.

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

• 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 were in England pre-Brexit, 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 ….

• The Scots are not going along quietly with Brexit. The Scottish government 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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