By Nwabueze Akabogu
The long awaited British departure from the twenty eight nations European Union (EU) finally became a reality precisely on the hour of 11GMT on Friday 31st January, 2020 when the British flag, the Union Jack at the European Union Headquarters in Brussels was finally lowered signaling the formal exit of the United Kingdom from almost half a century old European Union in which Britain played a leading role in its early formation.
The historic moment was indeed the culmination of Britain’s long quest to leave the union which she had always considered as inimical to her cherished democracy and sovereignty. Any other reasons adduced by the myopic and self serving British Political gladiators were simply a smoke screen and political gimmick intended purely to hoodwink the unsuspecting British Public.
The first signal of Britain’s obvious disdain for European Union, was clearly demonstrated when she refused to join the European Monetary Union or single currency, the Euro, but rather insisted on retaining her national currency, the Pound Sterling which she considered as her national pride and identity. Furthermore, Britain’s obvious disenchantment with the European Union was again clearly manifested during the 2016 referendum when Euro skeptics or anti-European Union campaigners including the incumbent Prime Minister Boris Johnson vigorously campaigned for Britain to leave the EU which they claimed was ruling the United Kingdom from far away Brussels. The result of the historic referendum was too close between the pro-European Union campaigners led by the erstwhile British Prime Minister David Cameron and the anti European Campaigners were led by Boris Johnson along with the arch antagonist of European Union and leader of Brexit Party, Nigel Farage who also was a member of the European Parliament.
It is pertinent to observe however, that the British people seemed not to have been sufficiently informed about the catastrophic consequences of Brexit during the referendum hence they voted to leave the Union by a mere 3% margin of votes based primarily on nationalistic passions and the so called recovery of British Sovereignty from Brussels. It is a sad commentary therefore, that since the referendum in 2016, Britain had been thrown into the state of total confusion and uncertainty occasioned by the lingering acrimonious debate on the Brexit Saga.
It would be recalled that the Brexit deal which was earlier struck by the former British Prime Minister Theresa May with the European Union was outrightly rejected by the House of Commons (Parliament) on three different occasions and which eventually caused Theresa May her Premiership as she was later ousted from power in late 2019.
The aftermath of the Brexit debacle or deadlock obviously created an extremely dangerous situation in Britain and the socio-economic and political future of the country remained bleak and uncertain, even as the people generally became apprehensive about the dire consequences of the lingering Brexit turmoil.
Consequently, on assumption of office in late2019, Prime Minister Johnson vowed to end the Brexit deadlock and uncertainty and also promised to pull Britain out of the European Union by 31st October, 2019 “with or without a deal” and “not ifs or buts”. However, Premier Johnson’s quest and avowed determination to pull Britain out of European Union suffered devastating defeats in Parliament on three consecutive occasions when he presented his “new deal” to the House of Commons (Parliament) and which precipitated the dramatic dissolution of Parliament and snap election called for 12th December, 2019. Prime Minister Johnson and his Conservative Party decisively won an overwhelming majority in the election which had guaranteed the easy approval of Johnson’s “new Brexit deal” in Parliament thereby paving the way for the final exit of Britain from the EU by the new departure date of 31st January, 2020 which had since become a reality.
Nevertheless, the Upper Chamber of the British Parliament, the House of Lords had earlier rejected the “new deal” but later concurred with the House of Commons and thereby putting the final seal on Britain’s departure from the EU. The European Union on its own part had earlier ratified the Brexit deal with an overwhelming majority of 641 to 46 votes which had facilitated the United Kingdom’s smooth and orderly exit from the Union amidst mixed feelings and outpouring of emotions by members of European Parliament.
On the eve of the historic British departure on Thursday 30th January, 2020 there were again emotional scenes on the floor of the European Parliament at Brussels as well as at West Minster in London. In the European Parliament, while the MPs held their hands together and sang the song to bid Britain farewell, the leader of the Brexit Party Nigel Farage and his British colleagues were waving the British flags in the European Parliament which attracted severe rebuke from the President of Parliament and who instantaneously switched off Farage’s microphone for his unparliamentarily conduct. As the above dramatic scene was taking place in the European Parliament, a huge crowd of Britons across the political divide were already keeping vigil at Westminster in London and precisely on the hour of 11GMT when the famous Big Ben rang the symbolic bell heralding British formal exit from the EU, there were deep emotional scenes of mixed feelings from both the anti-European Union or Brexiteers and pro-European Union or Remainers who could not hold back their tears during the memorable event.
It was indeed the end of an era for the United Kingdom, and as the transition period as enshrined in the Brexit deal is about to commence in ernest, the British people would obviously have an opportunity to once again, ponder over their lifetime decision to finally leave the European Union in which they had made enormous contributions towards its growth and global influence for more than four decades as a powerful economic bloc and with the great prospect of full integration as a political union on the model of the United States of America as envisioned by the European Union founding fathers.
Nze Nwabueze Akabogu (JP) is a Regular Public Affairs, Commentator and Analyst.