Is Brexit Done?
At the end of the movie “The Truman Show” the protagonist takes a bow and exits the stage, putting an end to a 20-year plus reality show. Similarly, observers might be asking themselves: Does the agreement named Windsor Framework mark the end of the Brexit soap opera? Fear not: this is not the end, even though it is a somewhat surprising twist.
As Chris Grey recently pointed out, there is currently a struggle on-going in the Tory party, between those who want to settle into some kind of reasonable relationship between the UK, making the best out of a bad situation, and those that want to continue living their endless Brexit dream.
It is clear that Rishi Sunak belongs to the first group. He seems to have pulled off a trick that his predecessors never managed: striking a deal with the EU without lying about it, without rancour on either side and uniting most of his party. It is clear that he managed to create a new atmosphere of trust between the EU and UK. It is also welcome that Labour is supporting the Prime Minister in his endeavour, which clearly establishes them as the adults in the room. It again shows the importance of interpersonal skills and trust-building in getting to policy successes, confirming what we have seen during the Greek euro-standoff in 2015.
On the EU side, one can argue that concessions in form of a more flexible and risk-based approach show that the EU can be very adaptable and does indeed care about peace in Northern Ireland (more than many in England and Northern Ireland itself). The EU side also sends a strong signal that a rule-based system rules and adherence to it comes with awards!
So, is Brexit done? In spite of this agreement I very much doubt. It is not clear that future governments, especially on the Tory side, will feel bound by this agreement – after all, Boris Johnson never considered him and his government bound by the withdrawal agreement he signed, praised and won an election with. One swallow does not make a summer! There is much more trust-building to be done before we ban the expression Perfidious Albion back into the history books.
There is still the complication that the unionist parties in Northern Ireland might refuse to accept the agreement, raising the political temperature further. Also, there are a lot of possibilities for future clashes in this framework, including the Stormont brake being more of an ornament than an instrument. Part of the problem is inherent to Northern Ireland and is special status, part is the Brextrimist fringe of the Tory party using this special status for their own ideological wet dreams.
Finally, there is the ongoing domestic argument about the revocation of EU law by the end of the year and (related) the ongoing debate on the post-Brexit economic model. And the Brexit culture wars will certainly be revived in due time for the next General Elections.
In sum, I don’t believe the Brexit soap opera is over but the rest of the 2023 season might be a bit more boring than expected – and that is good news!