After gifting Britons a Brexit bonus by raising the threshold by 10% to 9,500 pound per year for National Insurance contributions, hours before the United Kingdom concluded its membership of the European Union (EU), British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was conspicuously and purposely absent from any public event connected with the country’s divisive divorce after a 47-year marriage.
As leavers led by the ultra-nationalist Brexit Party and remainers across the political spectrum took turns to celebrate and express chagrin respectively in London and the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh chose to keep the EU flag flying indefinitely to indicate their displeasure, Johnson attempted to unite a nation at cross purposes since the “in or out” referendum campaign in 2016. He noticeably distanced himself from any tone of triumphalism. Privately, he hosted a reception, where English sparkling wine, not French champagne, was served.
The less charitable, like The Guardian newspaper, though, commented: “He did so (make a public appearance) because he didn’t dare show his face – not even go on TV – and take ownership of a Brexit that has been hewn in his own image. Shambolic and a bit clueless. Because deep down Boris has never really been a true believer.”
True, a much expected live broadcast to the nation at its most momentous juncture in half a century did not materialise. The BBC refused to relay a piece-to-camera by Johnson unprofessionally filmed by his personal videographer.
Thus, the premier posted his video message on his Facebook page. In it he said: “The EU has evolved over 50 years in a direction that no longer suits this country (Britain).” He then declared: “This is the dawn of a new era.” But explained this by saying: “We want this to be a beginning of a new era of friendly co-operation between the EU and an energetic Britain.
A Britain that is simultaneously a great European power and truly global in our range and ambitions.”
The French President Emmanuel Macron warned Brexit was an “alarm bell” for the EU. The new German European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen realistically stated: “We want to have the best possible relationship with the United Kingdom, but it will never be as good as membership.”
At the hour of the split – 11 pm British time, midnight European time – a son et lumiere (which Brexiteers would probably prefer to less elegantly re-phrase as a sound-and-light show) emblazoned the colours and configuration of the Union Jack, the British flag, on the front facade of 10 Downing Street, the official locale of British prime ministers since 1735. In the middle appeared two images of arguably the world’s most famous clock – Big Ben – which adorns one of the towers of Westminster Palace. At the departure hour, pre-recorded bongs rang out in the only symbolic British government heralding of the separation. The real Big Ben is temporarily silent, undergoing repair and renovation.
As buildings in the union’s capital Brussels lowered or removed the British standard, constitutionally and legally the UK vacated it seat among EU member states, Britons ceased to be EU citizens, British commissioners and members of the European parliament (MEPs) would play no further part in decision-making in or formulating laws of the EU and no one from London would attend its future ministerial or heads-of-government meetings.
Otherwise, Britain has entered an 11-month period of transition during which a status quo will be maintained while a future relationship is negotiated between the EU and the UK. 49% of the UK’s trade is with the EU. Will the future arrangement be alignment or divergence, is the big question?
In effect, until at least the end of December 2020 Britain will remain in the EU’s single market and customs union and continue contributing to its budget. Capital, goods and services and people will move freely as before between the UK and the union. Most Britons and Europeans will not notice any change in their daily lives. The word “Brexit” has, however, been excised from British government communications.