The British voted by almost 52 per cent to 48 per cent in 2016 ending the premiership of David Cameron and even though he was able to hand over to a fellow remainder Theresa May, she didn’t last long after shedding seats in the 2017 General Election. Just two years later, her nemesis Boris Johnson was elected with a 68 seat conservative majority to get on with Brexit.
Now after chest-thumping, Boris is staring into reality, the EU may be invisible across the English Channel, but it’s next door in Ireland. The EU is the largest trading partner taking in about 50 per cent of its foreign trade. The United States with whom the UK is pursuing a free trade agreement, is responsible for 20 per cent and Japan and Australia jointly about 10 per cent.
The EU is using that leverage to retain regulatory control over the UK, Europe’s second largest economy by continuing to apply rules in place at the time of withdrawal, extracting concessions allowing EU vessels to freely fish in UK waters and continue to subject the UK to the European Court of Justice in certain matters even though it is no longer an EU member.
The British never happy with the EU, which confirmed their downgrade from an empire where the sun never sets to a seat at the table in the 28-member union, have been furious. Britain acceded to the European Economic Community in 1973 deep in debt and a declining post-war industrial economy and rising unemployment.
Ms Margaret Thatcher after ousting Ted Heath who made her Secretary of Education in 1975 ran on a slogan, “Is Britain working?” Thatcher caught her hand bag to make fellow EU leaders whom she talked down to like her cabinet colleagues, all male. The Europeans hated her but for all the scorn, Britain got something as her situation over time improved, privatisation and deregulation made many British millionaires even though the people on benefits skyrocketed.
This was until the EU came up with the Euro that promised even more financial discipline than printing money when in need or expansionary monetary policy.
The British with a relatively stronger currency for historical reasons, balked sending the pound crashing and with it, her chancellor Norman Lamont and later herself out of power. People with resources panic first after facing a huge devaluation of their net worth.
From that time, the right wing of the party begun pushing for diminished ties, opted out of the Schengen Agreement and would have voted no to the United States of Europe. The glamorous history of the empire and its humbling end did not stop them from the contrast. The UK went 100 per cent into the arms of the United States, who periodically denied them access to new military hardware because they couldn’t afford to pay and even thought of siding with the Argentinians in the 1982 Falklands War.
Boris Johnson, a descendant of an ambitious parentage born in New York with Turkish ties, made a final split second decision to support the Brexiteers.
He was popular with the base having won London back for the Tories as Mayor from Labour. In December 2019, he shifted the Tories from a hung Parliament to a comfortable majority.
Boris Johnson is banking on eventually a smaller government and British advantages as a centre of financial services to further punish the EU’s arrogant attitude.
Contrary to expectations, London is still the global hub for finance after outwitting Frankfurt and Paris and the EU is exercising leverage to threaten loss of an automatic passport, which would condemn EU banks like Deutsche Bank to oblivion. Just like the US has abused its currency through door-to-door deficits, not much harm has resulted as it’s the primary currency in global commodity markets.
Britain is probably happier smaller speaking one language. The Queen speaks very good French, but has never committed a faux pas speaking it in public.
Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-At-Law and an Advocate.