Getting Done by Brexit

Today was the Day For Rejoin, with modest events held around the UK. It’s a start, but it’s going to be a long road back. I wouldn’t expect us back in the Single Market before the election after next, and the EU itself, who knows. But I can still remember getting a mad-looking flyer in the 2005 election from some bunch of no-hopers called UKIP, and look what they achieved.

A YouGov poll last summer found that most Britons would now vote to Remain were the EU referendum being held again, and likewise would vote to rejoin the EU if such a vote were being called: “Were a new referendum called on whether or not to return to the EU, 51% of Britons would vote to rejoin, compared to 32% who would vote to stay out (giving a headline vote figure of 61% to 39%).”

Meanwhile, a November 2023 YouGov poll showed that “57% of Britons would now support joining the single market even if that meant the resumption of the free movement of people [while] one in five people opposed it”: “In general, the poll shows that 72% of Britons want the country to have closer ties with the European Union, including a majority of both Remain and Leave voters.”

Some people in Britain do still like being out of the EU, economic impact be damned (and some don’t believe that any of that is Brexit’s fault anyway), while for others it’ll be a combination of wounded pride, stubbornness and “mustn’t grumble”. Most, though, don’t expect anything to change for the better until the Tories are out. So, that’ll be next January, given that Sunak looks as if he’ll hang on until the bitter end rather than risk holding an election a day before he has to.


Meanwhile, four years on from Britain’s exit from the EU, how’s it going? Swimmingly, say its supporters, who argue that we should stop blaming Brexit for our economic ills. Most people in the UK have more of a sinking feeling about it, but the prospects for repairing or reversing the damage are unclear.

Creating the post-Brexit state is still very much a work in progress. Brexit still isn’t done+—for one thing, border inspections will start in May. Despite the supposed “hammer blow for Rejoiners” of Britain’s trade deal with Australia, the trade patterns finally emerging in the data confirm Brexit’s dismal impact; are UK regulators just not trying hard enough+ to make the most of it? Will geo-political forces push Britain and Europe back together+?

If they do, it can’t come soon enough. Britain is becoming a toxic chemical dumping ground. Defra’s experience has shown the problems in making Brexit work. (Oh, and thanks to Brexit a united Ireland is growing ever more likely. Every cloud, eh lads?) Labour is looking to roll back Brexit’s worst effects+, although its supporters are divided. Many voters no longer seem to care whether Brexit means Brexit: they just want done to mean done.

Just want to ignore it all and drown yourself in drink? Post-Brexit tax rules mean price rises are in store for UK wine drinkers.


Some doubt that the EU would have Britain back, given the trouble it’s caused. And yet. At the end of the day, the EU is bureaucratic and pragmatic. If it does the sums and figures it’s worth it, and is reassured that the UK it’s dealing with isn’t 2016-UK (which it won’t be), why not? Even Serbia has been an EU member candidate since 2012, which was barely a decade after the Yugoslav Wars ended. (Also, it might be that the UK rejoins in bits. Would the EU reject an independent Scotland that never voted for Brexit?)

As for the supposed obstacle of Britain not being readmitted unless it adopts the euro, that’s something of a red herring. There’s a reason almost a third of the EU is outside the eurozone. EU countries are supposed to join the eurozone after meeting the relevant criteria, but they “do have the right to put off meeting the eurozone criteria and thereby postpone their adoption of the euro.” What are these criteria? The key one is:

The country has to participate in the exchange rate mechanism (ERM II) for at least two years, without strong deviations from the ERM II central rate and without devaluing its currency’s bilateral central rate against the euro in the same period. … The purpose of the exchange rate mechanism (ERM II) is to demonstrate that a country’s economy can function smoothly without recourse to excessive currency fluctuations. … Participation in ERM II is voluntary, but is a mandatory step towards joining the euro area.

No country has to join the euro that doesn’t want to, whatever they might say for the purposes of joining the EU. Denmark negotiated a permanent opt-out in 1992, so they’re no longer a relevant comparison, but Sweden joined post-Maastricht and has used the “participating in ERM II is voluntary” condition to avoid the issue for decades. The Czechs, Poles and Hungarians have been in the EU since 2004, Bulgaria and Romania since 2007, and Croatia since 2013; they all still use their own currencies. Britain would just have to follow their example until such time as it’s no longer an issue one way or another.


Edited from a post to Metafilter and my subsequent comments.

23 March 2024 · Politics