Brexit gloom prevails on UK’s three-year anniversary
Rishi Sunak said Brexit was a ‘huge opportunity’ for growth, jobs and social mobility. Photo: Oli SCARFF / POOL/AFP
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended Brexit as a “huge opportunity” on Tuesday as the UK marked three years since leaving the EU amid an economic crisis and a growing public sense of “Bregret” .
On January 31, 2020, the United Kingdom ended 47 years of membership of the European Union and its predecessor, the EEC, shortly after Boris Johnson scored a resounding election victory for the Conservatives with his promise to “get Brexit done”.
An Ipsos poll last week found 45 percent of people in Britain think Brexit is going worse than they expected.
“In the three years since we left the EU, we have made great strides in harnessing the freedoms unlocked by Brexit to tackle generational challenges,” Sunak said in a statement released for the anniversary. said.
“I am determined to ensure that the benefits of Brexit continue to empower communities and businesses across the country,” the Prime Minister said.
Sunak called Brexit a “huge opportunity to deliver” on his priorities of growth, employment and social mobility.
The prime minister – who will also celebrate 100 days in office this week – said the UK had “forged a path with confidence as an independent nation” and “that momentum has not slowed”.
He said these included Europe’s fastest vaccine rollout, trade deals with 70 countries and “taking back control of our borders”.
The statement came as Sunak faces numerous challenges, with thousands of UK workers on strike over pay outstripped by rising inflation.
The cost of living crisis hit millions and inflation rose above 10 percent.
While saving the overstretched state-funded health service (NHS) was a cornerstone of the Brexit campaign, NHS workers, including nurses and ambulance staff, are now on strike over pay and working conditions.
Partly a backlash against the free movement of people and goods across the EU, Brexit has led to restrictions that have hit food supplies to the UK and made it harder to hire foreign workers.
Yet the number of migrants making the perilous Channel crossing to claim asylum in the UK hit a record high of 45,000 last year.
The UK has also experienced a period of political instability, with three prime ministers last year.
Sunak did not mention the problems in Northern Ireland surrounding post-Brexit trade deals that have led to months of negotiations between London and Brussels and paralyzed self-government in Belfast.
No celebrations are planned to mark the anniversary and in Scotland, where most voted to remain in the EU, opponents planned a torchlight procession through Edinburgh.
“Today’s Brexit anniversary marks three years of political chaos and economic disaster,” wrote a columnist in the left-wing broadsheet The Guardian.
Even right-wing broadsheet The Sunday Telegraph wrote that there is “a growing sense of ‘Bregret’ taking hold in Britain”, and asked: “Is there really much cause for celebration?”
A study by Bloomberg Economics published on Tuesday said: “Brexit is costing the UK economy 100 billion pounds a year ($124 billion), with consequences ranging from business investment to the ability of companies to hire workers.”
The Office for Budget Responsibility predicts that the new trade relationship between the EU and the UK will reduce long-term productivity by four per cent, compared to staying in the EU.
Nevertheless, even the opposition in parliament is not calling for Brexit to be reversed.
Keir Starmer, the leader of the main opposition Labor Party, which is riding high in the polls, has promised to reconnect with Europe but has ruled out taking the UK back into the European Union or its single market.
The IMF significantly downgraded its UK growth forecast on Monday, predicting that its economy would contract by 0.6 percent this year. Britain looks set to suffer more than most from rising inflation and higher interest rates.
In a jargon-heavy statement, Sunak said progress had been made in “a range of key growth areas”.
He cited economic reforms, including the opening of free ports that exist outside normal tax and customs territory, as well as regulatory reforms to the financial sector.
Sunak also included a bill going through parliament to scrap all the EU laws that were automatically retained after Brexit.
The bill has sparked a backlash in Britain, with many public and private interest groups and organizations accusing the government of moving too far, too fast.
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