Wherever you look for it, Brexit is nowhere to be found. No one wanted to say the “B-word” at the Brighton Labor conference and not at the Manchester “Tories” conference. At first glance, it might even appear that the prime minister has made good on his promise to “complete Brexit.”
And yet Brexit is everywhere. It is argued, quietly (and unheard by any minister) that it is one of the causes of fuel and food shortages. It is whispered that it will be a drag on future growth. It is hinted as the key that will allow the UK to do things differently to create the “high wage economy” that we have been promised. Brexit is complete, but Brexit is not over.
This relative silence is due to several reasons. The first, boredom. Personally, I don’t understand how any person can stop being endlessly fascinated by the gigantic social experiment that is Brexit. But I’m beginning to realize that my case may not be representative. Five years of heated discussions and crippling polarization, coupled with 18 months of the pandemic, have left public opinion desperate to move forward. Not in vain the slogan “Get Brexit done“(Complete or end Brexit) was so popular.
Second, expectations. Whatever the responsibility for Brexit in the current shortage, its impact is relatively subtle and its relationship to other factors complex. In other words, we are a long way from the “edge of the cliff” that many of those who wanted to stay in the European Union were warning us about.
The economic effect of Brexit was always going to be more of a gradual puncture than a dramatic impact, it was always going to be more gradual than the anti-Brexit rhetoric implied. In our current economic malaise, it is really very difficult to distinguish the reasons attributable to Brexit from those that have their origin in the lockdowns due to the pandemic.
Third, polarization and perception. As the political scientist has argued Sara hobolt and his collaborators Thomas J. Leeper and James Tilley, one of the features of the “affective polarization” that has characterized the post-Brexit debates has been what they call an “evaluative bias in the way the world is perceived.” . In short, what everyone thinks of Brexit, our Brexit identity, is shaping our perception of what is happening. In this sense, and according to their research, the Brexit identity is even stronger than the party identity. It’s no wonder then that supporters of leaving the European Union are not holding Brexit responsible for the shortage.
Neither Tories nor Labor
Which brings us to politics. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in political science to figure out that conservatives are not going to say that Brexit is the source of our economic troubles. To a large extent, Boris Johnson’s success in the 2019 elections was due to his ability to form an electoral coalition that supported the decision to leave the EU, so he can count on the reluctance of his voters to interpret Brexit as possible. reason for any financial problems that arise.
The times when ministers do mention Brexit, they do so by resorting to the strategy of presenting it as the key that will open the door to a new high-wage economy in the UK. However, and for obvious reasons, no one is paying much attention to how long or disturbing this can be. “transition“(as it was called by the Minister of Companies, Kwasi Kwarteng).
On the Labor side, the party has been reluctant to utter the word Brexit for much of the period since the Trade and Cooperation Agreement entered into force. [el nuevo tratado para regular las relaciones comerciales entre Reino Unido y la UE].
At the party conference there was some passing reference. Keir Starmer spoke of “make Brexit work“, and Rachel Reeves, the foreign minister in the opposition, linked the cost of living crisis to the” Tory Brexit mess. “But there is little evidence of the sustained and repeated attack that would be needed to strengthen the relationship between the Accord. Cooperation and Trade (TCA) and shortages at fuel dispensers and on supermarket shelves.
This does not mean that everything will continue to be this way. It is quite possible that different economies will recover from lockdowns at different speeds, and that could expose the Brexit effect.
The truck driver shortage is more severe in the UK than in other European states, partly due to Brexit. The general shortage of labor, and especially in agriculture and social care services, is also clearly linked to the decision to leave the EU. The British government may find it more difficult to argue that this is a global problem if the UK’s economic figures start to differ from those of neighboring countries.
Which brings us to Northern Ireland. Stephen Bush from the magazine New Statesman, has argued that one of the reasons why David Frost, the one in charge of negotiating Brexit, is so eager to renegotiate the infamous protocol for Northern Ireland is the fact that that region has not suffered from shortages like the rest of the Kingdom United. The Gasoline Retailers Association has stated that no supply problems in Northern Ireland and they have attributed it to the different relationship it has with the EU single market.
If the renegotiation of the protocol is not completed, these differences could cast doubt on the government’s claim that Brexit has not adversely affected the British economy.
Furthermore, the full effects of Brexit have yet to be felt. On the one hand, the British Government has not yet implemented all the measures required by the ATT to control EU imports into the United Kingdom, which will affect the commercial relationship.
Second, the lockdowns prevented most business travel. For this reason, it has not yet been experienced how visa requirements and other procedures will be transformed after Brexit, especially among service provider entrepreneurs.
Much will depend on the behavior of the British economy in the coming months. The issue could come back to haunt the Tories if prices rise further, shortages continue and, above all, if Labor is willing to send a message linking those issues to the Brexit deal.
No end (for now)
There is already some evidence, albeit little, of a shift in public opinion about the Brexit process. According to a poll From YouGov on September 29, 53% of people believe that Brexit is not going well.
All this without mentioning the possibility of a crisis. The french they talk about retaliation against the UK for what they see as a breach of their commitments on everything from the fisheries agreements to the protocol for Northern Ireland.
A UK decision to partially or completely suspend that protocol would raise the specter of a tit-for-tat trade showdown. It is too early to know how that could affect the economy and public opinion about the government.
In any case, the bottom line is that, although Brexit is not mentioned in party conference season, there is little reason to believe that the word has been banished forever from British politics. We may have ended Brexit, but Brexit is still over with us.
Translated by Francisco de Zárate.
Listen to this new chapter of ‘Un tema al día’, in which Juanlu Sánchez explains more about Brexit.