Was it worth it? Two years after Brexit vote, UK stays split

Tens of thousands of anti-Brexit protesters marched in London to demand a new referendum on leaving the European Union.

world Updated: Jun 24, 2018 00:13 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Brexit vote,Brexit,UK
A woman holds a placard as she joins EU supporters, calling on the government to give Britons a vote on the final Brexit deal, participating in the 'People's Vote' march in central London, Britain on June 23.(REUTERS)

On the second anniversary of the 2016 Brexit referendum, Britain’s people and its politics remain deeply divided, with experts insisting no one has a clue how it will play out.

Thousands of anti-Brexit campaigners under the People’s Vote platform marched to Parliament on Saturday, demanding that the people get the final say on the terms that the Theresa May government would reach with Brussels before the scheduled divorce from the European Union on March 29, 2019.

Strident voices in the pro-Brexit camp insist that there is nothing to lose or fear from exiting the EU, while the rival camp claims that the economic loss that would ensue and the UK’s dwindling stature and influence does not make it worth leaving the bloc.

EU supporters, calling on the government to give Britons a vote on the final Brexit deal, listen to a speaker in Parliament Square, after participating in the 'People's Vote' march in central London, Britain on June 23. (REUTERS)

Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King’s College London, provided a reality check in The Independent, stating that untangling 40 years of relationship with the EU was never going to be easy — the option basically is between a Brexit that is economically ruinous and one that equates to membership without the perks.

“This is where the debate now is. Find a clever way of selling the status quo, or adopt a model that impacts severely on trade and hence our economy, and deal with the political consequences,” he wrote.

“I, for one, have no earthly clue how this will play out. But as this stark choice becomes clearer, and as we approach squeaky bum time, the choice has to be made. Cabinet unity will be stretched to breaking point.”

Leaders within the May government continue to add to the conundrum. Foreign secretary and prominent Brexiteer Boris Johnson is reported to have responded with an expletive when EU diplomats raised concerns with him over Brexit’s impact on business.

EU supporters, calling on the government to give Britons a vote on the final Brexit deal, participate in the 'People's Vote' march in central London, Britain on June 23. (REUTERS)

Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, told BBC: “I think the public in general...do see there is a mess. We’ve only got a year to go. And I think for the big companies that employ hundreds of thousands of workers in the UK... they want some clarity about what the trading relationships will be and there is absolutely none whatever.”

Both the ruling Conservative and Labour parties have influential MPs and sections aligned to the rival camps on Brexit, adding to the ambiguity and growing impatience among the people over the vexatious discourse inside and outside parliament.

Menon added: “This political churn, combined with the all-consuming impact of Brexit on Whitehall, means that little if anything has been done to address the substantive domestic implications of the referendum. And this matters because it is here, rather than in Brussels, that the domestic political battle over Brexit will be won or lost.

“There is a long, long way to go. We have reached the Brexit foothills. But the real mountains – sorting trade, then, more importantly, sorting ourselves – still await us. Happy anniversary.”

First Published: Jun 23, 2018 22:50 IST