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International 29 Jan, 2020 Follow News


By Michael Jarvis, London UK


Britain outside the European Union; sunny uplands or a dark dungeon of despair?

On even this outlook, the country is divided.

Ever since the United Kingdon voted almost 50/50 on whether to remain or leave the EU (52% Leave to 48% Remain), the UK has been split down the middle on its post-EU prospects.

The curtain comes down on their 47-year union this Friday January 31st, although it still doesn’t quite end there.

There’s an eleven-month transition period during which things will generally remain the same except for those areas where protocol requires that certain doors are closed.

On the other hand, practicality demands that other areas of cooperation remain open in the interim.

Who is closing what door on whom is an interesting aside to the ongoing debate over winners and losers from the split?

Is the UK closing the door on the EU on its way out or is the EU closing the door as the UK departs?

There are hardly any spoils to be divided. In fact, the split itself could be the cause of much spoilage.

The ‘divorce papers’ have been signed, in sombre settings, it might be said especially on the part of the EU, although on the UK side of the split there’s been an attempt to ‘talk it up’ as Britain getting its ‘independence’ or getting its independence back.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared it “a fantastic moment” when he signed the Withdrawal Agreement last week.

‘Fantastic moment’ might be debatable as it signals victory where there really isn’t any - except for Mr Johnson himself affixing his signature to what could be seen as a personal victory for him where especially his predecessor Theresa May failed.

Mrs May herself was a casualty of the divisions which have riven the country over Brexit spanning four years, one referendum, two general elections, three British prime ministers, numerous ministerial resignations, sackings, political defections, parliamentary factionalism...and that's only in the UK.

Politically, the EU has been relatively stable during the same period.

Prime Minister Johnson has spoken of his hope that this date of the historic split would bring an end to “far too many years of argument and division" as he put it.

But, will it end the histrionics over Brexit and all that's been associated with it and all that it's been blamed for.

And although he did not quite articulate it that way it might have very well been a fantastic moment if the arguments and divisions were actually at an end.

It doesn’t appear that way either on the home front on in the immediate future for UK-EU relations.

Even the scaled-down ‘celebrations’ on the part of the UK might be premature.

Plans for Britain’s iconic Big Ben chiming to mark the moment of departure were unceremoniously dropped over both cost considerations, refusal by the Bell-ringers Council to actually ring the bell, and wide condemnation that it was just a very bad idea - and in very poor taste.

A push by Brexiteers and their financial backers to raise the half a million pounds that was calculated to arrange the Big Ben chime (or toll?) had to be abandoned despite the most ardent backed raising around half the money under what Prime Minister Johnson had promoted as ‘Bung A Pound For Big Ben’s Brexit Bung. (Yes, it was that bad).

That money will go towards a possibly better cause; the Help for Heroes, UK war veterans charity.

But the transition will nevertheless be marked in the UK with some ceremony is not the level of flair that was planned.

A countdown clock will be projected onto the Prime Minister’s official residence and offices at Number 10 Downing Street, a street party is planned in London, and Parliament Square in the capital will be decked out in red, white and blue.

Street parties and other events were also planned for other cities across the country.

Prime Johnson will deliver a national address in which he was expected to convey that despite how people voted in the 2016 referendum, it was time to unite the nation, heal divisions and set Britain on a path to renewed greatness as a global trailblazing country.

Quite notably, the occasion will be marked by the issuing of a commemorative 50p coin commissioned by the UK Treasury bearing the inscription "peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations.”

Interestingly, it's the third time that the coin has been scheduled to go into circulation. It was withdrawn previously and redesigned as the Brexit date had to be changed.

The tone in the Brussels is notably less festive and decidedly more formal and sombre.

The British flag will be taken down without fanfare, furled and archived amongst other EU memorabilia.

But after this first phase comes the real challenge - albeit with opportunities as the government and Brexiteers are quick to remind.

Ahead lie tough trade negotiations mainly with the EU and the US.

The UK will also have to test its own systems of ‘taking back control’ - gradually in some instances - of systems and procedures handled by or coordinated with the EU, and just generally settling into its new reality.

Will it be easy? Probably easier said than done.

Is the country prepared, or more accurately, just how prepared is the country, especially the public?

According to the UK’s National Audit Office, £46m was spent on the "Get ready for Brexit" campaign - a little under a pound for each year of the UK’s membership of the EU (just an interesting statistic for those who like that sort of breakdown).

In its just-released final report on the review of that campaign, the NAO says “it is not clear that the campaign resulted in the public being significantly better prepared."

As Britain looks to the future, the extent to which Brexit has divided the country and the colossal effort it will take to heal those rifts is evident in the country's music charts of all places.

The UK has always been a world leader in music from pop to protest, but this one 'takes the biscuit' as one British saying goes, or perhaps 'just taking the Mick', to quite another one.

Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, Ode to Joy which is the EU anthem and a theme of the Remain campaign, is in running competition with the uniquely irreverent British song 17 Million F***-Offs, a favourite of some Leavers, for the top spot on the UK pop charts this weekend.

Credit to the Brits for an amazing sense of self-deprecating humour.

'Having a larf' is therapeutic.

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