OPINION - The Standard View: Brexit is a failure, but rejoining the EU will fall to future leaders

 (Christian Adams)
(Christian Adams)

There was always going to be “some friction” when it comes to trading with the European Union, but that is the “price you pay”, Brexit cheerleader and Government minister Andrea Leadsom acknowledged this morning. Curious that Vote Leave never put that on a bus.

It is almost passé at this point to state that the UK’s exit from the EU has been a disaster. Sure, the walls haven’t come tumbling down, the UK economy continues to bump along, but it bears repeating: Brexit is a slow puncture that has made Britain, and its people, poorer.

As a matter of fact, not all that slow. A recent report by Cambridge Econometrics commissioned by City Hall finds that the UK economy is almost £140 billion smaller because of Brexit, while the capital’s economy has shrunk by £30 billion. It also reveals the average Londoner was nearly £3,400 worse off last year.

Little wonder that an exclusive Ipsos poll for the Evening Standard finds that 57 per cent of adults believe Brexit has been more of a failure, with 13 per cent saying it has been more of a success. It just so happens that many in the latter camp sit in the Cabinet.

The data is even more stark when split by age. Some 70 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds, many of whom were too young to vote in 2016, think Brexit has been more of a failure. And who can blame them? During the referendum campaign, Brexiteers promised that Leave would mean taking back control of borders, £350 million more a week for the NHS and, of course, a free trade deal with the US. Readers can fill in their own scorecards.

Fait accompli

Still, the prospect of rejoining the EU is a distant one. There remains little political appetite, even amongst those who think Brexit has gone badly wrong. Sir Keir Starmer, once an advocate of a second referendum, now views life outside as a fait accompli. And that is before we even ask EU member states whether they would take us back.

But the Labour leader knows that Britain’s path to prosperity lies through a closer relationship with Europe. The challenge, at least for now, is to find substantive ways of doing so that falls short of membership of the EU’s single market and customs union.

For those who never wanted Britain to leave, who believed the truth about how Brexit would hobble the UK economy and threaten peace in Northern Ireland, now is not the time to gloat. Now is the time to get organised. Sir Bill Cash, the high priest of euroscepticism, never gave up on his beliefs. He made them his life’s work.

From its respect for human rights to its position as trading superpower, the EU is where Britain belongs. The task falls to a future generation of leaders to make the case and, one day, win the vote.