As politicians continue their silence around the damage Brexit is causing our country, Stephen Fry should be praised for speaking out. By asserting that “everyone knows deep in their bones” that Brexit has been a “catastrophe”, Fry is doing the job our cowardly, short-termist, self-interested political class ought to do.
Boris Johnson, a man who has a distant relationship with the truth, is in the opposing corner to Fry, writing in the Daily Mail that rejoining the EU “is simply NEVER going to happen”. He goes on to claim that “rejoining the EU is not, repeat NOT, the solution for any significant problem that the UK currently faces.”
It may be entertaining for some to have a former prime minister and a national treasure pitted against each other, but it is no laughing matter to the millions in our crumbling country, desperate for competency and care from our leaders. This came in the same week that Lord Frost, former Brexit negotiator, confessed in the House of Lords that he and Johnson knew the Northern Ireland Protocol was unsatisfactory, and “always hoped” they would have to renege on it. The magnitude of this statement is astounding. That the most senior people negotiating our country’s future were acting in such a cavalier, bad-faith manner should make any right-minded person refuse to trust either of them again.
Examining the detail beyond Johnson’s assertion that rejoining the EU would not solve any of our current problems, there is significant evidence of the negative impact his Brexit deal has had across almost every sector from business and medicine to farming and energy.
According to a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), three-quarters of British companies reported that the trade agreement between the EU and Britain has made it difficult for them to increase sales and grow their business. Things are set to get even worse for SMEs. The BCC found that 80% of businesses were unaware of a tsunami of red tape coming soon due to new EU green taxes and incoming VAT rules.
Across the NHS and social care, Brexit has compounded widespread existing problems caused by a lack of workforce planning, and poor conditions. The decline in EU recruitment and registration since the 2016 referendum has hampered the healthcare sector. The result, in just nursing, is that the number of nurses joining the UK register from the rest of the world has risen from 800 in 2012-13 to 18,000 in 2021-22. But this cannot replace the benefits from recruiting and retaining domestic staff – who are increasingly leaving the healthcare sector.
UK business investment is slowing across every sector, knocking around £1,000 per household off GDP. Public services, retail and hospitality, and the entertainment industry are all facing staffing shortages linked to EU migration – resulting in overstretched services and higher consumer costs.
Worryingly, Brexit is seriously harming our food and farming sector. According to a Farmers Weekly survey, 70% of farmers who grow cereals said Brexit had been negative for their businesses, with 76% of rapeseed growers reporting the same. This number was 68% for farmers with beef cattle, dairy cows or sheep, 81% for vegetable farmers and 79% for pig farmers.
Through our True and Fair Party’s Championing the Countryside campaign we have talked to many farmers, and they are in despair. The sector’s problems have been compounded by delays to the sustainable farming incentive for 2023 – the system of payments replacing the EU’s old common agricultural policy.
It appears reality is finally dawning on Rishi Sunak. But the Windsor Framework, which makes Northern Ireland – in his words – “the world’s most exciting economic zone”, is being denied to the rest of the UK. Rejoining the Horizon programme has been celebrated by the scientific sector, but what about every other sector? We need to urgently sign up to a veterinary agreement so food coming from the EU can once again be checked for diseases. Signing up to REACH would ensure the free flow of life-saving pharmaceuticals. Likewise Europol can achieve justice across borders.
The political piecemeal approach is simply not enough. Addressing the vast array of problems our country is experiencing would take even longer outside the EU. Climate change, international security threats, mass migration, pandemic crises in humans, flora and fauna are all global threats the UK will struggle to counter alone. We are stronger, more prosperous, and safer when alongside our nearest friends and neighbours.
Even accounting for the impact of the pandemic and the illegal war in Ukraine, it is clear Brexit has made our country less resilient. Johnson’s arguments – and those made by the same Tory faction for the past 40 years – are based on ideology, and there appears little they won’t sacrifice on the altar of Brexit. But the facts are plain to an increasing number of the population – there are negligible Brexit benefits. As Stephen Fry said, “people know it in their bones”.
It is time to start the road to rejoining the EU. The mood music from the bloc confirms that a five-year timeframe is realistic. No one wants Brexit to dominate every conversation again, but the government can no longer ignore the polling, which shows that rejoining the EU is now the will of people.
We need to act now. Every day we delay further damages and poisons our country. Waiting for Brexit benefits to emerge in 15 or 20 years’ time is a gamble I will not take with my children’s and their generation’s future. In a democracy, when the facts change, we can change our minds.
Despite every major party cowering, Brexit is far from settled in the minds of voters. The National Rejoin March on September 23 is an opportunity for people who support rejoining the EU to make the polling visible on the streets and ensure we are seen and heard.
Gina Miller, founder and leader of the True and Fair Party, is speaking at the National Rejoin March on Saturday