Many of the leading Brexit proponents have fallen in disgrace. Dominic Cummings embarrassed himself by ignoring the Covid regulations. He was subsequently forced to resign by Boris Johnson, as he had turned out to be incompetent and divisive. As one Tory MP put it: Cummings had “a mindset for campaigning, not for governing”.
Boris Johnson’s premiership was marred by scandals: the unlawful prorogation of Parliament in 2019, duplicity in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol, the Downing Street refurbishment scandal (Wallpapergate) and the Covid scandal (Partygate) when Johnson and his administration repeatedly broke the rules.
Boris Johnson had a tenuous relationship with reality: in 2021 the Adam Smith Institute described one of Johnson’s speeches as “bombastic but vacuous and economically illiterate“. He also had a tenuous relationship with truth: the list of Johnson’s lies is long.
When Chris Pincher was accused of repeated sexual molestations, leading to his suspension as a Tory MP, Johnson lied when he claimed that he had been unaware of Pincher’s previous misconduct when he appointed him as deputy chief whip. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back: after mass resignations, Johnson was forced to resign as Prime Minster.
Rather than facing a parliamentary report on his lies and a possible by-election, Boris Johnson recently quit as an MP, just after having pushed through an “honour list” which includes six of his aides implicated in the same scandal.
In true Trumpian stye, Johnson turned against his judges (a parliamentary committee with a Conservative Majority) and called them a “kangaroo court”. As pointed out by a senior Tory, Johnson had approved this committee process and “It is all very well accusing them of conducting a witch-hunt now that they have found against him but if he thought the process was unfair … why didn’t he raise that at the time?”.
Dominic Raab, another leading Brexit campaigner, served as Deputy Prime Minister under both Johnson and Sunak. In April 2023 he was forced to resign, after an independent investigation found him guilty of bullying.
As for Nigel Farage, he resigned as leader of UKIP after the Brexit referendum, claiming he would not return to politics. Three years later he was back as leader of a newly created Brexit Party.
One of the most objectionable stances by Nigel Farage has been his longstanding support for Donald Trump. Trump’s denied his electoral defeat in 2020 and subsequent attempted to subvert the election results. Trump has also opposed climate change policies, has two ongoing criminal investigations and has received a sexual abuse sentence.
Nigel Farage has been a poor judge of people, as when in 2014 he defined Putin as the leader he most admired.
No “sunlit uplands”
Brexit has been Farage’s great project. Theresa May had a go at implementing Brexit, then Boris Johnson imposed a harder version, followed by tweaks by Rishi Sunak. Despite all these attempts, Farage has recently admitted that “Brexit has failed”. Could it be that Brexit could never takes us to “sunlit uplands”?
Brexit was intended to reduce migration. We left the EU and net migration has increased. The fact is that net migration is influenced by economic growth rather than membership of the EU, whereas the number of asylum seekers is mostly affected by international events and humanitarian crises.
Brexit has damaged our economy with an impact comparable to Covid and the energy price crisis, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.
To control climate change, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the world. When we were part of the EU, we could use trade deals to push for action on climate change. Since leaving the EU we have given up on this aspiration: on our own we do not have the weight to influence trading partners.
The EU project had been born out of a desire to sustain peace and democracy in Europe and we have seen the positive influence of our membership of the EU in Northern Ireland.
The election of Donald Trump in 2016 was a real challenge, because of his unilateralism, erratic behaviour and a tendency towards isolationism. Some suggested that a re-election of Trump would have been a real threat to the survival of NATO.
Trump is likely to be the Republican nominee for the 2024 US presidential election. The EU can play a critical role in coordinating European policies in the face of Russian aggression, Chinese threats, and the risk of a rogue US President in 2024.
Brexit has been a mistake.