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The elections we shouldn't talk about Brexit – The Atlantic

The elections we shouldn't talk about Brexit – The Atlantic
The elections we shouldn't talk about Brexit – The Atlantic


Bernie, the spectacled bear, is one of the star attractions at Chester Zoo in the north of England. He is also one of the forgotten losers of Brexit.

Since Britain left the European Union, zoos have struggled to participate in breeding exchanges intended to help vulnerable and endangered species, and Bernie is waiting two years for the correct documents allowing him to move to Germany and romance a she-bear. Before Brexit, this would have been in place in 6-8 weeks, the zoo spokesperson told me via email.

The fate of hundreds of zoo animals in the country is a reminder of how Brexit has profoundly reshaped the UK's relationship with the continent across the Channel. And yet the B-word has barely appeared in the campaign to choose the next Westminster government on July 4, nor in debates between party leaders, nor in policy measures communicated to friendly newspapers, nor in leaflets sent out by individual candidates. The conservative Party manifest is 80 pages, but uses the word Brexit only 12 times. The word does not even appear as a standalone section of the Labor platform, but rather falls under the broader term. title of reconnected Britain.

Brexit champions and opponents have decided that now is not the time to talk about this huge change in Britain's place in the world. Nigel Farage, the man who led the populist campaign to leave the European Union, renamed his UK Independence Party the Brexit Party for the 2019 election. Today, however, his political vehicle is simply called Reform, and he prefers to talk about small boats crossing the Channel or the perils of a cashless society. Even the Liberal Democrats, a pro-European party which campaigned last time on the promise of rejoining the EU (and thus fell from 12 to 11 seats), are now claim that this is only a longer term objective.

As someone who has worked in journalism in Britain for almost two decades, I can tell you: this is an extraordinary turnaround. During the first half of my career, the campaign to leave the European Union was an obsession of the Conservative right, so much so that the then Conservative leader, David Cameron, urged his party to stop talking about it. Europe. Then came the 2016 referendum, in which Brexit was hailed as a populist triumph against elite consensus and a foreshadowing of the election of Donald Trump in the United States next November. This was followed by three bitter and tedious years of wrangling in Parliament over the terms of Britain's exit, when it became clear that populist victories are easier won than put into practice. By December 2019, the process dragged on so long that Boris Johnson won an 80-seat majority for the Conservatives by simply promising to deliver Brexit. And he did: Britain left the European Union, including its single market and customs union, in January 2020.

Mission accomplished! Finally success! A promise kept! And yet, four years later, the Conservatives, now led by Rishi Sunak, receive no credit for implementing their flagship policy and ending their obsession of the past two decades. The Conservatives are now so far behind in the polls and so fear an erasure on the scale that suffered by Canada's dominant right-wing party. 1993 electionthat they went from trying to win elections to trying to lose less badly. This week, a conservative minister urged voters to support the Conservatives in order to avoid giving Labor a supermajority, a term used in reference to the US Congress which doesn't even mean anything in the British political system. Even though they delivered Brexit exactly as they promised, the Conservatives do not only fear defeat on July 4. They fear annihilation.

What happened? Simply put, Brexit was a failure. Conservative ministers like to tout the trade deals they have signed with non-EU countries, but no normal voter cares. pork markets. Anyone who voted for Brexit to reduce immigration will have been very disappointed: net migration was 335,000 in 2016but rose to 685,000 Last yeardown from a record 784,000 in 2022. And although the economic effects of leaving the European single market have been muddled by the pandemic and the energy shock that followed Russia's invasion of Ukraine, we can say with certainty that the British do not feel richer than they were. did it four years ago.

Above all, voters are bored with Brexit. In April 2019, according to Ipsos sounder, 72 percent of Britons consider Brexit one of the most important issues facing the country. Today, that figure is 3 percent. The only thing we've seen in focus groups uniting Leave and Remain voters is that they don't want to talk about it, Anand Menon, director of the independent think tank UK in a told me. Changing Europe. Brexit supporters think the Tories have ruined everything. Labor doesn't want to talk about it because [Keir] Starmer is vulnerable.

This point about Starmer is crucial. Before the 2019 election, he was Labour's shadow Brexit spokesperson and showed sympathy towards party members, who leaned heavily towards Remain. But when he became Labor leader the following year, after Johnson's landslide victory, Starmer accepted that Brexit had to happen and he ordered his party to vote for it in Parliament. In the current election, polls suggest Labor is winning over many Brexit voters who supported the Conservatives in 2019. The last thing these changers want to hear is a rollback on Europe. The Labor manifesto therefore promises to ensure that Brexit works without a return to the single market, the customs union or freedom of movement.

The B-word appeared more strongly in debates in Scotland, where the majority of voters backed Remain and the ruling Scottish National Party is eager to overflow Work. It is also an electoral issue in Northern Ireland, where the status of the border with the Republic of Ireland is still up in the air. charge. But with both major English parties extremely reluctant to discuss Brexit, the British media have largely followed suit. One of the rare exceptions is Boris Johnson, the former prime minister who is now a tabloid columnist again, who accused The first to plot to re-enter the single market. Using a Yiddish word meaning mooch, Johnson claimed that if Schnorrer enters, he will immediately begin the process of stripping this country of its new independence until this country is effectively locked in the Brussels legislative dungeon like a chewing idiot. orange ball. (The infamous hostage scene in Quentin Tarantino's film pulp Fiction apparently made a strong impression on Johnson.)

Johnson may be displaying his usual rhetorical exuberance and cultural insensitivity, but he is right. The next government will have many decisions to make about how to manage Britain's relationship with the EU. The current wall of silence will completely change after the elections, Menon said. You will hear a lot more noise about this from Labor members. Businesses unhappy with post-Brexit import and export regulations will be more vocal under a Labor government, he predicted. The problem is that a little tinkering could solve some of the minor problems created by Brexit. noted that it will examine regulations preventing Bernie and other zoo animals from fulfilling their duty to preserve endangered species, but that only a return to the single market would bring significant economic benefits. And it would involve exactly the compromise with British sovereignty that Brexit supporters have campaigned against for so long. Difficult conversations can be postponed, but usually not forever. It's bad news for the 97 percent of Britons enjoying the respite from years of row over Britain's relationship with Europe.

But for now, the political consequences of Brexit fatigue are more pronounced on the right. Leaving the EU has created many modest irritations: Bernie the bear enjoys life without delivering the promised big rewards. Here's a lesson for populists everywhere, one that America's anti-abortion lobby has since learned Roe v. Wade was knocked down: don't be the dog that catches the car.




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