Brexit remains a collective English breakdown

Nicholas Boyle: Britain’s failure to face up to the loss of its empire made Brexit all but inevitable

People get set for Brexit on January 31st: What was Brexit after all but a schoolboy spat between Boris Johnson and David Cameron, two rival Oxford-educated Old Etonians, and Nigel Farage? Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

People get set for Brexit on January 31st: What was Brexit after all but a schoolboy spat between Boris Johnson and David Cameron, two rival Oxford-educated Old Etonians, and Nigel Farage? Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

Brexit Day has come and gone and still we do not know what Brexit means. Boris Johnson, as we know, likes to see himself as a second Winston Churchill – a former maverick called on by his country to rescue it from an existential crisis. He prefers, however, not to remind us that the crisis in question, unlike that which faced Churchill, was largely of his own making and was engineered by him for his personal advantage. Now, at the cost to his country of historic and permanent disruption, he has acquired the premiership. What will he do with it? Churchill and Britain knew why he was prime minister; he had to win the war. But neither Mr Johnson (apparently) nor Britain (certainly) knows what is the Brexit, on the promise of which, he won the election. Which is presumably why he has instructed his government that from now on there is to be no more talk of Brexit. Brexit is to be regarded as “done” for, whatever it was, it has served its purpose.

Yet even the manufacturers of Sunderland, the most prominent of Britain’s Leave-voting cities, say they do not know what Friday means for them, that Saturday is the beginning of Brexit not the end. Any obvious changes are postponed to December 31st, the real Brexit Day, and even then much will be left in suspense, subject to future, and probably interminable, rounds of “further talks”. That in turn means a possibly indefinite continuation within Britain itself of the highly emotional disagreements provoked by the referendum.

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