Picture: 123RF/MARIAN VEJCIK
Picture: 123RF/MARIAN VEJCIK

What lessons can be drawn from the first 100 days of Brexit? Fewer than one might wish. The chaos of recent months underlines the difficulty, and maybe the pointlessness, of even trying to make forecasts amid such uncertainty.

For a start, the pandemic has overwhelmed the short-term results of quitting the EU. All those calculations of the effects on Britain’s growth, trade and employment have been rendered null. Thanks to Covid-19 the British economy has slumped, trade volumes have crashed, and many jobs have disappeared perhaps never to return.

Crucial new agreements, including deals that will shape the future of the City of London as a financial hub, have yet to be negotiated. It will be some time before the full legal meaning of Brexit is clear, and years after that before its enduring effects can be judged.

At the moment, the harder you look the more such complications compound. For instance, who would have predicted even three months ago that the pandemic might actually accrue to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s credit? At that point Britain’s management of the crisis vied to be among the worst in the world, with extremely high infection and death rates and the government’s fluctuating analysis and muddled messaging only aggravating the problems. In most of the EU the crisis seemed to be under far more skilful management.

Then the UK managed the vaccine rollout well, and the EU botched it completely. What a difference that has made. A new poll for Bloomberg shows that support for Brexit has actually grown since the referendum in 2016, with almost two thirds of adults saying that being outside the EU helped Britain’s vaccination programme. If a referendum on Brexit were conducted now, the survey found, it would pass by a bigger margin than before.

Yet it is clear that Brexit has destabilised the Good Friday settlement that brought peace to Northern Ireland, as many warned it would. And if the pro-EU Scottish National Party does well in forthcoming elections, as expected, pressure for a referendum on a Scottish exit from the UK (to be followed by a Scottish re-entry to the EU) will grow. /New York, April 13

Bloomberg Opinion

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