As the clock struck 11 on the evening of December 31st last year, the Brexit transition period ended. The United Kingdom left the European Single Market, and the EU Customs Union and a 47-year period of international cooperation ceased to be. For many it was a triumphant moment, one of liberty and restored sovereignty. For a seemingly equal number of others, it was the devastating final note in a symphony of national self-injury.
Despite the bravado and bluster, Brexit has undeniably already had a negative effect on the UK. In the four years since June 2016, the pound sterling has weakened by roughly 10% compared to its pre-referendum value. The UK has fallen from having the highest GDP growth rate among the G7 countries to the absolute lowest, and foreign investment to the UK has dropped by almost 20%. None of this, however, should be surprising. A letter published in The Times just a month before the referendum strongly warning against the financial impact of a Leave vote was signed by more than 200 academic economists, and ignored by millions. With Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon leveraging the possibility of renewed EU membership into another Scottish independence referendum and talk of a United Ireland increasing, the future of the United Kingdom would appear to be in dissolution. A future of shattered unions and economic hardship, however, is not what Remainers want.
I’m sure many other young sceptics feel the same way: we want Brexit to succeed. Should Brexit fail, should it devastate our international partnerships, and should it bring Britain into financial ruin, we will all suffer the consequences. We will all fail. Sure, it would validate and vindicate the expertise-driven predictions which lay unheeded in the run-up to June 2016, and in the years that followed, but to what end? A Pyrrhic victory if ever one should darken our national doorstep. Those of us in the youngest age brackets will live with the consequences for much longer than those who largely voted for Brexit.
Should Brexit succeed, should it be “not an end, but a beginning” as Boris Johnson declared to the nation in early 2020, we should be quietly contrite. Should Brexit, however, be an unmitigated (albeit Nostradamic) failure, we should not thumb our noses at the Brexiteers. We should not boast about our bleeding foot, simply because we foresaw the bullet’s trajectory. We should rebuild, not rejoice in the ruins we predicted. Perhaps we’ll be wrong. Perhaps they’ll be wrong. We simply can’t know exactly what is to come in a post-Brexit world… but I sincerely hope I’m wrong.
What we can know is Brexit was merely symptomatic of a greater scourge. The spectre of far-right nationalism has not released its grip on the world’s throat simply because Farage has disappeared into a cloud of noxious ether, or simply because Trump’s single-term presidency has ended in violent insurrection. Something is yet to come, perhaps the worst of it all. We just don’t know.