The country would remain implacably divided for a generation, with Remain and Leave replacing class and geography as the new fault line in British politics. International investors would take a generation to come round to the idea. And campaigns to re-join the EU would grow in strength as the chaos deepened. Even a few months ago, it was possible to argue that Britain's tortured debate about leaving the EU would run and run without any seeming end. And yet since then something very interesting has happened. The UK’s comparative success at rolling out Covid-19 vaccines has in effect sealed the Brexit deal. The debate is now over, both here, and around the world.
A poll out today – carried out by JL Partners for the often fanatically pro-Remain Bloomberg – shows that 62 per cent of people believe that leaving the EU helped the UK roll out vaccines more quickly than it could have done as a member. Another 67 per cent believe the EU has been ‘hostile’ to the UK during the row over vaccine supply. And, reflecting on all that, 54 per cent of people would vote to stay out in a rerun of the referendum, one of the highest margins in favour of our departure since the vote itself back in 2016. Bre-mourse? Bre-grets? Those it seems are now safely in the past. If there was a vote – a People’s one, or some other sort – we know what the result would be. Brits are now firmly of the view that we did the right thing by getting out. In effect, it has shifted public opinion decisively in favour of leaving.
The effect may be even more dramatic internationally. Over the last five years, most businesses, trade bodies and governments bought into the standard hardcore Remainer narrative. Inside the boardrooms of Tokyo, San Francisco, or Dubai, insofar as they took any interest in the matter, they largely accepted it was a vote driven by racists, nostalgic for the Empire and hoodwinked by some deceitful slogans on the side of a bus. And they accepted the view that it would be catastrophic for the economy, and that on the whole the UK was best avoided until the British got over the whole episode and asked to re-join. And yet, over the last few weeks they have instead seen a fairly modern, well-organised nation rolling out vaccines pretty successfully – and that too is changing perceptions.
It is not hard to see what has happened. For both domestic and international audiences, the UK has demonstrated scientific prowess, regulatory efficiency, and innovative, effective government. And the EU? Well, without rehashing the whole sorry mess, not so much. The vaccines may or may not end the Covid-19 pandemic. We will have to wait and see, although the figures so far suggest the impact on deaths, hospitalisations, and even infections, have been dramatic. But they already seem to have ended the debate over Brexit – which, come to think of it, is almost as miraculous an achievement.