There is no arguing with Boris Johnson on this point at least – Brexit is a new dawn. Today our long status as a member of the European Union is over. When Scotland’s rugby team plays Ireland’s in Dublin, they will not do so as fellow EU citizens.
To an extent, there was a degree of unity about this most divisive of subjects ahead of the moment of departure with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn saying the UK should now “move on” and former Prime Minister David Cameron, who led the defeated Remain campaign, saying it was time to “make a success of the choice that we made”.
We now enter the transition period, a ‘phoney Brexit’ due to last until the end of the year. It is a worrying sign that Boris Johnson appears determined to stick to this timeline, setting what many regard as an unrealistic deadline for trade talks with the EU and raising the alarming prospect of a no-deal.
They may seem academic to some, but polls showing that there appears to be a narrow majority in favour of staying in the EU should worry the Prime Minister. They should make him cautious about leading the country into a hard Brexit in which the EU is cold-shouldered in favour of the dubious charms of Donald Trump’s America.
Brexit may produce some winners but it seems clear there will also be losers even if the worst predications about the extent of damage to the economy do not come to pass.
It would be understandable if Leave voters who experience a worsening of their quality of life became angry as a result. The fact that the pro-Brexit UK Government has a large majority and will be in office for years to come may only heighten the sense of frustration and increase the chances of social turmoil. So it is in the interests of the whole Brexit project to make our departure from the EU go as smoothly as possible; the Conservatives should be ‘conservative’, not radical, as they introduce this momentous change.
The fact that Remain politicians are keen to stay as close to the EU as possible means there is, or there should be, a broad coalition in favour of a specific course of action about Brexit.
Johnson faces a choice to become the leader of this coalition or the embrace the siren voices of hardcore Brexiteers who dream of the UK becoming Singapore-on-Thames.
But whatever happens, we should all, Brexiteers and Remainers alike, always remember that the decisions taken on our behalf have been made in a democratic way, even if it was at times flawed. We may not like the outcome, but we should always remain respectful towards those with whom we disagree.