The elephant in the room of British politics is Brexit and will get larger and larger until the main parties address it - GulfToday

The elephant in the room of British politics is Brexit and will get larger and larger until the main parties address it

Picture used for illustrative purpose only.

Guy Verhofstadt, The Indepedent

Peering across a misty English Channel, it appears that Britain faces a winter of discontent on a par with 1978. Yes, all European countries are facing strong economic headwinds. After the Covid-19 pandemic and Putin’s despicable invasion of Ukraine, we are experiencing energy and cost of living crises that affects all of our countries. With the US and China deepening a trade war, our old continent is increasingly squeezed in the middle. Despite these common challenges, it is Britain that risks becoming the lame duck of the G7.

British politicians might not say it for narrow electoral reasons, but let’s be in no doubt – this is due to Brexit and Brexit alone. We see it in the predictions from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for GDP growth in 2023/2024. We see it in the statements of the Bank of England.

Increasingly, the British people see it too. Brexit was a con. While there might not be a majority yet for rejoining the EU, polling shows us that buyer’s remorse has never been higher. People on both sides of the Channel want a closer relationship. British people rightly understand that in a changing world order, we have to work together closely as fellow Europeans to have a chance at a bright, shared European destiny.

There was a time when other populist, right-wing parties were advocating withdrawal from the European Union, but after seeing the consequences of Brexit, they changed course. The Swedish Democrats, the Dutch far-right, even the current prime minister of Italy once toyed with Brexit, but after watching the British decision, they changed their minds. The question is, why are no British politicians willing to be honest about the mistakes made before, during and after the 2016 referendum?

Instead of a long-term vision for Britain returning to the European family, we see that delusional – or hopeful – thinking still prevails. Even six and a half years after the referendum and a tortuous withdrawal process, politicians on the left and centre talk about “making Brexit work” and fiddling around the edges of the extreme Brexit that Boris Johnson chose, claiming the deal can be improved.

Yes, the deal can be tweaked. Yes, solutions around the Northern Ireland protocol can be found, but Johnson’s deal cannot really be improved fundamentally. Britain exchanged a Jaguar for a Ford Fiesta. British opposition politicians must start by acknowledging the reality: Johnson’s deal was an extreme one. Secondly, they must be honest with the people about the trade-offs of what the EU would offer in the future and present an alternative vision.

Leaving the single market and the customs union and putting up barriers to trade has made Britain poorer. Naturally, under a Conservative government, the burden of this falls on those who can least afford it. If the UK wants higher economic growth, then it needs to be in the single market which was, after all, a British invention. This comes with free movement of people, which is in itself a huge benefit for young British people.

Thankfully, EU membership is more than economics – it’s about a united Europe. There is a reason why Ukrainians died in Bucha with EU flags on their keyrings. President Zelensky has applied for EU membership, which we accepted, because the EU stands for something bigger. The European Union is an unprecedented experiment: an area of opportunity, freedom and democracy, where borders are torn down between people. It has its faults, but this is the dream. It is a dream that millions of underrepresented British people share.

Many in the EU, including myself, thought Brexit was a travesty for the British people. We want the Brits back, but we also know there will be a special deal for London. The elephant in the room of British politics is Brexit and will get larger and larger until the main parties address it. I have no doubt that one day, a young British politician will slay the proverbial elephant and lead Britain back into the European family, where it belongs. It is up to the British people to decide how quickly this day comes.

Related articles