Has Brexit matched your expectations? Let’s start by considering what your expectations should have been. Shortly before the referendum in 2016, Vote Leave issued a document called Leave Looks Like… which is the closest thing they had to a manifesto. Their bullet point commitments were as follows:
- We end the supremacy of EU law and the European Court. We will be able to kick out those who make our laws.
- Europe yes, EU no. We have a new UK-EU Treaty based on free trade and friendly cooperation. There is a European free trade zone from Iceland to the Russian border and we will be part of it. We will take back the power to negotiate our own trade deals.
- We spend our money on our priorities. Instead of sending £350 million per week to Brussels, we will spend it on our priorities like the NHS and schools.
- We take back control of migration policy, including the 1951 UN Convention on refugees, so we have a fairer and more humane policy, and we decide who comes into our country, on what terms, and who is removed.
- We will regain our seat on international bodies where Brussels represents us, and use our greater international influence to push for greater international cooperation.
- We will build a new European institutional architecture that enables all countries, whether in or out of the EU or euro, to trade freely and cooperate in a friendly way.
- We will negotiate a new UK-EU Treaty and end the legal supremacy of EU law and the European Court before the 2020 election.
- We do not necessarily have to use Article 50 – we may agree with the EU another path that is in both our interests.
How did they do?
We end the supremacy of EU law and the European Court
The British government made it a main negotiating aim to exclude the CJEU from any involvement in British law-making. No one has noticed much yet, but they have probably been a lot less successful than they think. Great chunks of UK legislation are derived wholesale from EU law, including most of the anti-discrimination law. Great swathes of this are unlikely to be repealed or rewritten. The UK courts are almost certainly going to continue to follow the CJEU’s own interpretation of EU law when interpreting the UK provisions. The first case in which this happens will cause fireworks on the self-radicalised right.
In any case, few voters could even name a CJEU case, still less one they disliked. The European decision-making body that voters really grump about is the European Court of Human Rights. That’s still just as much a part of British law-making as ever.
Charitably, I’ll score Vote Leave 8/10.
Europe yes, EU no
Britain now has the power to negotiate its own trade deals. It is not, however, part of the European free trade zone from Iceland to the Russian border. Access is not remotely comparable with that offered to the EEA or to Switzerland, never mind full EU membership.
Further in the document, Vote Leave asserts “The heart of what we all want is the continuation of tariff-free trade with minimal bureaucracy.” That promise of minimal bureaucracy has not been borne out. The Director General of the British Chamber of Commerce summed it up as follows: “There’s so much complexity – it’s like an onion, the more you peel, the more you cry.”. Fishermen are seeing their catches rot. The trade agreement has already allowed officious Dutch customs officials to impose Veganuary on British truckers.
The prospectus was not met on this front to anything like the degree promised – 5/10.
We spend our money on our priorities
Britain has recently been spending a lot more than £350 million a week extra before any purported savings from EU contributions have been taken into account. It turns out, that low levels of public spending was a unrelated policy choice. Fancy that.
Being scrupulously fair, the moment of truth for judging this has just arrived, so no score given yet.
We take back control of migration policy
Done. The new policy may be arbitrary and counterproductive, but a full 10/10 is merited on this commitment.
We will regain our seat on international bodies
Britain has retaken its seat on the WTO and other bodies where the EU represented the UK. The idea of “greater international influence” looks heroically optimistic. Britain lost its place on the International Court of Justice for the first time post-Brexit, symbolising its loss of influence (though it has now regained one). A United Nations Association report observed:
“While there are still areas where the UK remains influential, our research highlights considerable challenges for the UK in maintaining its current level of influence once it has exited the EU.”
A Chatham House report, constructively trying to find a way forward for Britain in international affairs, recently observed that Britain has an image problem. Worse, it notes:
“Brexit Britain will have to fight its way to the table on many of the most important transatlantic issues, with the EU now the US’s main counterpart in areas such as China relations and digital taxation.”
This is reduced, not increased influence. 2/10.
We will build a new European institutional architecture
Always a ridiculously optimistic ambition. A complete failure. 0/10.
We will negotiate a new UK-EU Treaty and end the legal supremacy of EU law and the European Court before the 2020 election
The original timetable was not met. Worse, the Vote Leave paper airily states: “There is no need to rush. We must take our time and get it right.” The government ended up working helter-skelter towards a self-imposed deadline which it refused to move in the middle of a global pandemic. The end result of a sketchy deal was the consequence. The timetable was always ambitious and with that in mind I generously mark this 3/10.
We do not necessarily have to use Article 50
Not an assertion that has stood the test of time well.
If you voted Leave to usher in a smooth transition to a world in which Britain wielded greater influence and where trading opportunities improve, you were sold a pup.
If you voted Leave to get control of immigration, your prospectus was met. If you were motivated by a visceral dislike of EU institutions, you should be happy enough.
Since most Leave voters came in one or other of the latter categories, however, they’re probably happy enough.