Press "Enter" to skip to content

Boris Johnson has ‘got Brexit done’ but will proceed with caution

A pre-recorded message on Instagram was a very low-key way for Boris Johnson to celebrate getting Brexit done.

But as a journalist and historian he knows it is wise to proceed with caution.

Britain’s relationship with Europe has destroyed the careers of more prime ministers than anything else since the Second World War.

We are now on our third occupant of Number 10 since the UK voted 52% to 48% to Leave back in June 2016.

The story of Brexit

Oddly it wasn’t Europe but trade union disruption which did for Ted Heath, the passionate Conservative Europhile who took the UK into what was then called the European Economic Community, or EEC, back in 1973.


At that time the Conservatives were the party of Europe and Labour were its main opponents.

It took two elections for Harold Wilson to get Labour back into power in 1974 and considerable cunning to keep Britain in the community as he really wanted.

More from Brexit ‘Happy Brexit Day’ poster telling people to speak English reported to police Boris Johnson lays out post-Brexit EU trade deal demands with tough talk Brexit: UK begins new life outside EU with political shake-up EU’s geographical centre shifts in Germany after Brexit Brexit: What image best sums up our departure? ‘I was brought up European’: Tearful Brits mourn Brexit in Brussels How the EU changed us

Wilson boxed clever by holding a referendum to paper over the huge divisions in the country.

He was sure he would win and, unlike David Cameron 40 years later, he did.

More than two-thirds voted yes.

Thatcher was a leading campaigner for Europe back then.

PM: ‘An astonishing moment of hope’

But as she told me she loves a fight.

She won money back for Britain in a permanent rebate from the Brussels budget. In 1988 the British were the dominant force establishing the single market.

By now the ruling Conservative Party was split. Thatcher expressed her doubts about the direction Europe was taking in the Bruges speech. Then pro-Europeans led by Michael Heseltine and Geoffrey Howe forced her out. She departed denouncing further integration.

Image: Margaret Thatcher (right) was forced out by pro-Europeans led by Michael Heseltine (left)

The new prime minister, John Major, took a softer approach, trying to balance both sides. He claimed game, set and match at the Maastricht negotiations opting Britain out of the single currency.

But months later the pound crashed out of the European exchange rate on Black Wednesday.

By now Major was fighting what he called “b*******” in and out of the cabinet, and he narrowly won re-election in 1995 when he put his leadership on the line in an attempt to reassert his authority.

Listen to “What Brexit means for us and why it’s not over yet” on Spreaker.

Labour’s Tony Blair swept to power in 1997. Blair was avowedly a pro-European but he allowed his chancellor Gordon Brown to persuade him against joining the next phase of EU integration, the Euro common currency.

After 9/11 European unity was shattered by Blair’s decision to go to war shoulder to shoulder with the Americans, something French President Jacques Chirac opposed loudly.

Meanwhile Britain was one of the only countries not to impose limits on migration from the new member states in Eastern Europe. Nearly three million came into the country in the first decade of the century.

New Labour promised but did not hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Instead Brown refused to join in celebrations and tried to sign it in private.

Image: Jacques Chirac (right) was against Tony Blair’s (left) decision to go to war alongside the US

By the time Cameron came to power in 2010, the majority of Conservative activists were Eurosceptic, some clamouring for a referendum. Cameron held off the calls for his first term thanks to the coalition government with the Liberal Democrats.

In 2015 he won an outright majority and faced delivering on his promise. UKIP – who Cameron had once dismissed as fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists – was surging.

Cameron called an in/out referendum. His side had won a referendum against Scottish independence the previous year and expected to win again. He was wrong.

Image: David Cameron campaigned for Remain in the EU referendum

Boris Johnson threw his charisma behind the Leave campaign and on 23 June 2016 a majority voted to leave the European Union.

Cameron quit immediately. Theresa May took over. She struggled for three years to deliver on the referendum, saying “Brexit means Brexit” over and over again.

Explained: How the UK-EU trade talks will work

But the Supreme Court agreed with Gina Miller, the pro-Remain businesswoman, that parliament should have the final say and it became impossible for May to win over MPs after she lost her majority in a snap general election. Rampant Tory backbenchers in the European research group made her tearful exit inevitable.

Now Johnson has ridden Brexit all the way to Number 10 Downing Street.

He’s “got Brexit done” as he promised, if not quite on time. He’ll be hoping to buck the trend and pull off a happy European ending for himself and the country.


Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *