Time for the UK to move forward

Five years ago, the majority of voters in the United Kingdom cast their ballots in the Brexit referendum in favour of ending their 45-year relationship with the European Union. In both Scotland and Northern Ireland, voters rejected the plan — but their ballots were lost in the overall result from England and Wales, meaning that the proposal to leave the world’s third-largest trading bloc behind the United States and China carried by a margin of 52 to 48 per cent.

These past five years have resulted in protracted negotiations over what Brexit would actually mean on both sides of the English Channel, how and when it would take effect, and just exactly what would be the future trading relationship between Brussels and London as a result of that historic decision.

If Brexit was supposed to create a bright new future for the UK on the global stage, that promise has yet to be fulfilled, in part because negotiations went down to the wire, much cohesion was lost as talks faltered and no one could have predicted the economic hibernation brought by the pandemic.

But Brexit too has brought uncertainty in Northern Ireland where the British province remains inside the EU on customs terms, with an economic border drawn down the Irish Sea by Prime Minister Boris Johnson — a hasty political decision that has unsettle the Loyalist community there who seek to maintain equality and ties with the rest of the UK. In Scotland too, Brexit has also fanned the flames of Scottish independence, for nationalists a show that Scots have little voice within the UK outside the EU.

Five years on, however, it is time to move one. The genie cannot be put back in the bottle, there is no going back, the Rubicon has been well and truly crossed. Now the challenge is for politicians of all stripes in the UK to forge a meaningful, close and mutually prosperous relationship with the other 27 members of the EU.

For the millions of Britons who live in Europe, for the millions of EU citizens who call the UK home, Brexit should mean forging a new relationship with their neighbours, not being penalised unfairly by a referendum that changed lives forever. Yes, the UK is going it alone — but it should do so without seeking to denigrate that which worked well for so long. Five years after Brexit, it is indeed time to move on.

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