When the United Kingdom finally left the EU at 11pm on the 31st January 2020, I was one of the many people attending a ‘Brexit Party’. Though most of the people at this celebration, including myself, shared two things in common, we were Conservatives and we supported Brexit, I was pleasantly surprised to see that we were joined by people from across the political spectrum and by people that had supported remaining in the EU. Many of the celebrations across the country featured unapologetic displays of patriotism. Flags and bunting adorned many of the party hosting pubs and bars, including one establishment in Derby where toasts to “Queen and country” and rousing renditions of ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘God Save the Queen’ were reported. These celebrations, on the surface, share many similarities to events such as Royal Weddings and Jubilee celebrations, events commonly associated with national unity. The ‘Brexit parties’ seen on the 31st January shouldn’t, however, be viewed as clear evidence of a new post-Brexit national unity that we have clearly lacked for the last three and a half years.
Despite the attendance of a number of Remainers at the various celebrations, they would have still been largely dominated by those that had supported Leave from the start of the Brexit debate or those that had come to accept the result immediately or shortly after the referendum. Whilst it is nice to think of the parties and celebrations as the coming together of Remainers and Leavers from across the political spectrum, this is simply not the case and a divide will most likely continue to exist. This divide can be reflected on a much grander scale in London. Whilst Nigel Farage addressed an immense crowd of Brexit supporters in a celebration in Parliament Square, a group of Remain supporting demonstrators gathered on the South Bank near the London Eye. Whilst the Union Flag was being lowered throughout European Union buildings, Scottish First Minister Nichola Sturgeon ensured the EU flag continued to fly over the headquarters of the Scottish government. This also perhaps foreshadows future national disunity, this time concerning Scottish Independence. A Panelbase poll conducted in the days leading up to the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU invoked a sense of déjà vu, suggesting that 52% of Scottish voters now support independence from the Union, with 48% against. Are we on track for yet another divisive referendum? Whatever happens with Scotland, it is fair to conclude that complete unity in Britain regarding our relationship with the EU has not been achieved and is unlikely to be achieved in the foreseeable future, particularly as we embark on the next stage of potentially divisive negotiations regarding our future trading relationship.
One must then ask whether the people of Britain are united by a feeling of just being glad to ‘be done with it’ all. It must first be noted that we aren’t actually ‘done with it’ yet. With the UK currently being at the start of an 11-month long transition period, where divisive and contentious issues such as trade agreements, data sharing and security, access to fishing waters, and aviation will all need to discussed and agreed upon, it is likely that our relationship with the EU will continue to remain at the forefront of the political discourse. Nevertheless, there is a sense that we can finally start moving on from Brexit, that has dominated politics for the last three and a half years and return to discussing other crucial matters that people passionately care about.
The Parliamentary gridlock caused by the seemingly endless votes and debates on Brexit helped push other important issues to the back of the agenda however just a few weeks since our departure we have seen some of these issues return to the front of the political discourse. Those that were concerned at the apparent falling by the wayside of the discussion of the construction of HS2 will surely be glad that the government has made a decision on this divisive infrastructure project. Young people that are most affected by the housing crisis will surely be glad that discussions regarding affordable housing can finally return to the forefront of public policy debates now that Brexit isn’t the primary issue on every politician’s mind. The government can finally start investing its time and energy into improving infrastructure and public services in the areas of the country that need it most. Though discussions regarding the EU will inevitably continue, the primary focus must now be on our domestic agenda, and many people will be delighted if this happens.
Following the referendum result, there were many voices calling for a ‘British Independence Day’. Nigel Farage himself, on the day after the referendum, expressed his desire for the 23rd of June to become Britain’s Independence Day. I would suggest however that the 31st of January would be a more fitting day if a ‘British Independence Day’ did become a reality. Sadly, however, I doubt that the nation will come together every January, on a most likely wet and windy day, and celebrate. It is sadly unlikely that the nation will repeat the unapologetic displays of patriotism that were seen throughout Britain on the 31st of January 2020, every year hereafter. As someone who has supported Britain leaving the European Union ever since I first got involved in politics, I will always remember the 31st of January as our ‘Independence Day’ but I don’t expect the entire nation will do the same. The simple reality is that Britain has not been universally united by our departure from the EU, debates regarding our relationship will most likely continue indefinitely and I would not be surprised if a major political party adopts a re-join policy in the near future. The main priority now, however, must be our domestic agenda and making the most of the new opportunities that a post-Brexit Britain brings. Though the lack of complete unity is unfortunate, I would still argue that we are more united now than we were on the 30th of January 2020 and I am optimistic of Britain’s post-Brexit prospects.
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