“Are you also a Brexiteer?” – With this question a handful of people next to Big Ben try to find like-minded people shortly before 11 p.m. On New Year’s Eve, the streets of the British capital are almost empty. Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square are cordoned off. The police in the city center politely ask passers-by not to stand around and not to gather in groups. The coronavirus is making London a ghost town.
Big Ben rings at 11 p.m. Officially – so it says on the side of Parliament – it is just a test before the ring at midnight for the new year. The London landmark has been under repair since 2017. It is covered with scaffolding and only rings on special occasions. But for Julia Stevenson and Lucy O’Sullivan and for other supporters of Brexit, it is not a test, but a great sign of a final break with the European Union.
The two women ran for the right-wing populist Nigel Farage’s Brexit party in the parliamentary elections last year. When the bell rings at 11 p.m., they cheer. O’Sullivan, a 69-year-old woman in a fine fur hat, waves the British flag and shouts: “I can’t stand this opinionated, dictatorial, authoritarian EU!” and splatters everyone around you.
“This is a great moment for this country. We have freedom in our hands and it is now up to us to make the most of it «
On January 31st, when Britain left the EU’s political structures, Farage was personally in Parliament Square to count the seconds until Brexit. The final exit from the EU internal market and the customs union, however, happens without much pomp. The pandemic dwarfed this historic day.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson only briefly mentioned Brexit in his New Year’s address. “This is a great moment for this country. We have freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it, ”he said. Many Britons are relieved that an agreement with the EU was negotiated at the last minute. And only a few hardcore Brexiteers actually pop the corks in public.
“We’re disappointed that there aren’t more people here to celebrate,” says Stevenson. In general, she is against lockdowns and thinks that the government is taking away the people’s freedoms. O’Sullivan already sees a new great cultural war “between the libertarians and the communists” coming. “Most Brexiteers are against lockdowns. Remainers are for it, ”she believes.
“Most Brexiteers are against lockdowns. Remainers are for it”
The two Farage supporters are largely satisfied with the deal, which was hastily waved through in Parliament on Wednesday and put into effect by the Queen on the same day. »We are going to act globally now! We have to grow! ”Shouts O’Sullivan. Lee, a gray-haired man in a Union Jack hat, who stands next to her, is also optimistic. “When Covid is over, we’ll be fine,” he says. “Our future is bright, we will again produce more goods ourselves and gain control over our borders.”
Nothing good for the UK economy
However, the reality should soon disappoint the British who believe such slogans. Because the divorce from the EU does not mean anything good for the economy. Trade between Great Britain and the EU remains duty-free, but bureaucratic hurdles are increasing. The importers and exporters now have to fill out customs declarations for their goods. Trucks have to be checked much more frequently at the border to ensure that the products being transported meet quality standards.
On New Year’s Eve, the immediate consequences of this break were not felt. In the port of Dover, less traffic is expected in the next few days because a weekend follows after New Year’s Day. In addition, many companies have built enough stocks in the past few weeks in the event of an exit without an agreement. But in the coming weeks, when normal freight traffic is flowing again, there could be traffic jams and delays in Dover. Great Britain is planning a transition phase of six months for the controls, but the EU wants to apply them immediately.
“Scotland will return soon, Europe. Leave the lights on”
Compared to England, other parts of the UK are even further removed from the solemn mood. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the state parliaments voted against the deal – a symbolic act of rejection. The Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted in the night: “Scotland will return soon, Europe. Leave the light on «.
And in London, a city that voted against Brexit by a majority in 2016, the cheering mood of the Brexiteers was not shared by many residents. Anna Strong, a student who came to the banks of the Thames with a friend and a thermos of mulled wine to watch the New Year’s fireworks, thinks the Brexit deal is “terrible”. Since she is only 18 years old, she was not allowed to vote in the referendum. But now she has to live with the consequences.
For example, she will no longer be able to take part in the Erasmus exchange program as part of her film studies. She blames her own father, among other things. He voted to leave the EU, although he also has a Greek passport in addition to his British passport and now lives in Greece. “He voted for Brexit because he thinks the EU is a bunch of capitalists. Now he’s sad about the consequences himself, ”sighs Strong.
She now hopes that her father will at least help her get a Greek passport. So she would follow the example of Stanley Johnson, the Prime Minister’s father, who just announced that he would apply for French citizenship.