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By Morak Babajide-Alabi
As Britain is confused on BREXIT, let us cast a look back at the past. This article was first published in this column on September 11, 2016. It is relevant today as there is still no headway, almost three years after. Read on:
When on June 23, 2016, the majority of British voters decided it was time to dump the European Union, they never expected it would take this long before the process that will ease them out will start. The joy of the announcement of the result in the early morning of June 24 had turned into a nightmare for them now. While some have openly regretted the decision to vote to “leg” it from the EU, the majority have no idea what is going to happen next because of the foot-dragging of their leaders.
For some of them voting “out” was on sentiments rather than facts. Many have confessed if they were as educated as they are now on BREXIT, they probably would have voted otherwise.
Going down history lane, we do recall that the BREXITEERS were apprehensive on the eve of the referendum, they, however, woke up to a surprise result in their favour a day after. They were not confident in the ability to “deliver” Britain from what they described as European bureaucracy. To further compound their situation, the exit polls on the eve of the referendum gave them no chance.
The rest is now history. However, the way and manner the campaign for the exit was carried out portrayed the United Kingdom in a mad rush to leave the EU. The impression at this time was that immediately the referendum was won the process of disengaging from the club would begin.
It was not to be. The only process that commenced immediately was the exit of David Cameron from 10 Downing Street. It did not take him so long to figure out that he should quit the stage. However, this has been the opposite for the citizens who voted based on the propaganda fed them by politicians on what Britain stands to gain in the event of an EU exit.
Just after the shock result was announced, the EU leaders, disappointed by the negative vibes oozing from the BREXITEERS, were quick to remind Britain that there was no turning back. To them, exit means exit and the earlier the process is started the better. EU’s Jean-Claude Juncker advised that Britain should not delay its exit from the union.
The eagerness of the EU leaders to see Britain start the process of exit is the opposite of the reaction of the BREXIT leaders. They could not hide their joy on the morning of June 24, as they jostled to claim responsibility for the victory. We all remember the powerful speech the outgoing leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage made after the result.
He could not help himself when he giggled and announced that June 23 should be declared the Independence Day for Great Britain. You wonder what type of independence? He made himself very clear in his usual garrulous manner that it was independence from the European bureaucrats in Brussels. He said: “The EU is failing, the EU is dying. I hope we have knocked the first brick out of the wall.”
Not too long after, the others, such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove hurriedly came out, bare-chested to claim some of the accolades for the independent UK. While these ones looked dishevelled, supporters put it down to the stress associated with the campaign for the referendum. To keen political observers, it was not anything associated with stress, but a confusion arising from the cluelessness of what to make of the just announced result.
And right on the result day, they showed they really have no idea of the magnitude of what they have led Britain into. Johnson said: “I want to reassure everybody that, in my view, as a result of this Britain will continue to be a great European power, leading discussions on defence and intelligence sharing and all the work that currently goes on to make our world safer.”
In the same vein, Gove wanted the benefits of Europe without being part of it. He declared: “We can build a new, stronger and more positive relationship with our European neighbours based on free trade and friendly co-operation.”
Fast forward to the present, the strain and disappointment of the people who voted Leave are becoming visible. The joy and happiness that greeted the results of the referendum have now been replaced by weariness and confusion. The voters have suddenly realised that the dream may take a while to become a reality. Apart from this, there is a feeling of having been taken for a ride by the politicians.
There are no more visible BREXIT leaders as they have all settled into new roles in the government. One has the feeling that these politicians who actively supported the Leave campaign did it for personal and selfish reasons. Some observers have described their action as a coup against the government of Cameron. The Theresa Mays, Amber Rudds and the Boris Johnsons are the beneficiaries of the referendum.
The confusing part of the post-referendum is the quietness that has pervaded on this subject. The political leaders who were all over the places before the referendum are now shy to discuss when Britain should trigger Article 50 that will start the exit process. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, is not in any hurry to start this process. In fact, she made it clear that the EU exit would not be rushed.
In her first visit to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, May reiterated the intention of Britain to quit the union but still maintain the status quo. She declared: “So it’s good that we start from such a strong foundation and a position where both our countries believe in liberal markets and free trade and these should be the principles that guide us in the discussions ahead.”
Interestingly some of the BREXIT leaders have been trying to pull the wool over the faces of other EU leaders. They are giving the impression that they want an exit without a loss of status in the continent or in the single market.
The debate on when to trigger Article 50 is gathering. The prime minister has stated categorically that it would not be done this year. However, the minister in charge of BREXIT, David Davis has suggested it should take place before the end of 2016. His famous line of “there will be no attempt to stay in the EU by the back door. No attempt to delay, frustrate or thwart the will of the British people,” speech has not in any way allayed the fears of the British people.
The question on the lips of everybody is “when will British leaders be bold enough to follow through the wish of the people?” Observers believe that as it stands now, Theresa May would have wished there was no EU exit burden on her Prime Ministerial “neck”. She would have loved the job without the headache of BREXIT.
For the BREXIT voters, the wait is still long. The independent Great Britain they voted for a few months ago may take longer than envisaged to become a reality. Frustrations may set in, but there is really nothing they can do than wait patiently as the leaders slowly plan or pretend to plan the exit.
First published in the Diaspora Matters, Sunday Vanguard of 11th September 2016.