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The party’s over for Boris Johnson, now comes the real graft

A long time coming.

At 11pm on 31 January, the moment finally arrived: 1,316 days after the UK voted to leave the EU, we finally did.

The page turned on a 47-year chapter in our history.

For some this is a moment of jubilation, for others, sorrow.

Mindful of those divisions, the flamboyant prime minister approached this momentous day with uncharacteristic restraint, recording a short address to the nation before retiring to sip sparkling English wine (perhaps) at private party in Number 10.


Mr Johnson’s team did bow to some Brexiteer pressure, beaming an image of Big Ben (virtually) bonging on Brexit Day onto the front of Number 10 as part of Downing Street’s light show.

The party over, now comes the real graft.

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Mr Johnson won an election on the promise of “Getting Brexit Done”, and is now tasked with writing the next chapter in our story as a nation.

This is how the country marked ‘Brexit day’

And there will be two great, as yet unknown, narratives in the Johnson premiership. One is how he shapes a post-Brexit identity for Britain and changes our country.

The other is how he crafts a re-imagined relationship not just with Europe but with the rest of the world.

Mr Johnson has made it clear that he wants to “level up” the country and repay those voters in Labour’s red wall seats who lent the Conservatives their votes.

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

A mission not dissimilar to that of his predecessor Theresa May who promised in 2016 to build “a country that works for everyone” in the wake of the referendum result.

But the big difference between this prime minister and his predecessor is an 80-seat majority.

That gives Mr Johnson real power to re-shape the nation as it leads it through it most momentous transition since the Second World War.

Brexit day: Celebration and regret as Britain leaves EU after 47 years

But it’s equally true that successive governments which have tried to close the gap have struggled to deliver.

They have sought to shift public sector investment, devolved power, transferred fiscal wealth from London and the South East, but levelling up regional inequality is stubbornly difficult to achieve.

Difficult too will be the other pressing challenge for Mr Johnson: to negotiate a new trade deal with the EU at breakneck speed.

On Saturday morning, the clock begins ticking on a new deadline, the end of the agreed transition period on 31 December.

Brexit aftermath explained: What happens now that Britain has left the EU

The Cabinet on Friday discussed a Canada-style free trade agreement as the prime minister set a target of clocking up trade deals covering 80% of the world within three years.

The Canada model offers almost tariff-free trade in goods but also involves border checks.

The UK’s services sector is not included in the free trade agreement. The government looks to be forgoing “frictionless” trade in return for the power to set its own trading rules and preserve the right to diverge from EU rules if ministers see fit.

Image: A couple in Berlin wearing Boris Johnson and Queen masks to mark Britain’s EU departure

That deal would undoubtedly be a harder version of Brexit than Mrs May envisaged.

But Mr Johnson seems to have concluded that Brexit must mean “taking back control of our laws” even if that hits the UK economy by 4.9% over the next 15 years (the Treasury’s own forecasts).

It would also be much harder to strike in the time frame set out by the UK government: Brussels has made it clear that the ability to tie up a trade deal win the coming 11 months is heavily dependent on Britain’s willingness to align to EU rules and maintain current arrangements.

Mr Johnson says he doesn’t want to keep banging on about Brexit, but these trade talks will be front and centre stage in the coming months.

The trading relationship between the EU and UK was worth £650bn in 2018: What happens to it in the next phase of negotiations will be critical to the health of the UK economy and the prime minister’s ability to invest in public services.

“Taking back control,” Mr Johnson is now in the driving seat.

The author of Brexit, he and his government now have to deliver the post-Brexit prosperity they promised the people.

The buck stops, not with Brussels, but with Boris Johnson now.


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