Ihe Britons have a talent for coining neologisms: after Brexit, the break with the European Union (EU), consummated exactly three years ago, here is the “Bregret”, in other words the regret of said Brexit. Far from being a fad of nostalgic commentators, it is now a reality. A clear majority of Britons – 57% according to the average of the latest polls – would vote today to re-enter the Union. On both sides of the argument, the conclusion is identical: Brexit ” do not work “. “A slow puncture” (“slow puncture”), we read in the Times.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has long been able to attribute the country’s poor economic performance to Covid-19. This smoking is no longer possible. A significant coincidence: at the very moment when Rishi Sunak’s government celebrated the anniversary of Brexit by welcoming the fact that the country “confidently charts a course as an independent nation”, the International Monetary Fund published its forecasts: according to them, among the main economies of the world, the United Kingdom will be the only one to be in recession in 2023, the only one not to have regained its pre-Covid-19 size.
The diagnosis is now clear: by restoring customs controls, Brexit has hampered relations with the EU, the country’s main outlet, cutting British trade by 15%; supply chains have been disrupted and investment slowed. The labor shortage has been aggravated by the end of free movement with the EU. Inflation was weighed down by rising borrowing costs following disastrous budget decisions by short-lived Prime Minister Liz Truss. To the point that the expression of“sick man of Europe”used to describe the United Kingdom before 1973, the year it joined the European Community, is coming back into the public debate.
Long series of strikes
Social discontent, accumulated after years of relentless austerity – relaxed somewhat during the health crisis – and underinvestment in public services, is now erupting with a long series of strikes, unseen since the 1970s, including the one that was to be observed, Monday February 6 and Tuesday February 7, among the 360,000 nurses of the National Health Service who are demanding a 10% salary increase.
In reality, the fundamental ambiguity of the break with the EU – frenzied desire for some to deregulate in order to transform the country into a tax-free platform at the gates of the continent, or call for more state intervention for others – has never been lifted. The Brexiters, if they recognize the current poor performance, attribute it to the timidity of governments to liberalize and break with European rules.
Convinced that Brexit is a “huge opportunity”, and already discredited in public opinion, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, hardly gives any sign of being able to break the deadlock. As for the leader of the opposition, Labor Keir Starmer, a big favorite in the polls, he is far too cautious to recognize the damage of Brexit.
The longer it takes British politicians to recognize the great Brexit mess and find remedies, the longer instability is likely to persist in Europe’s oldest democracy. Sign that times are changing, the British have even found a name to designate those who wish to return to the EU: the “join”.