3 Years Into Brexit, Here's What We Have To Show For It

Probably not the anniversary present the government was hoping to offer the public.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Three years on since the UK left the EU, it’s hard not to argue that we are a pretty different country now.

Of course, not all the changes we’ve seen are down to Brexit.

The impact of the Covid pandemic lingers on and the Russia’s war in Ukraine has added to the forecasts predicting a global downturn in the next few years. And, many issues have been brewing for more than a decade, due to prolonged periods of austerity.

But, considering then-prime minister Boris Johnson hailed January 31, 2020 – the day the UK finally exited the union – as “the dawn of a new era”, just how has the country transformed in that time?

1. Economy

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has forecast that the UK economy will perform worse than every other major country in 2023.

Even Russia will do better, despite being weighed down by international sanctions imposed by countries opposed to Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

The latest World Economic Outlook also predicts that the UK economy will shrink by 0.6% in 2023, despite previously claiming it would grow by 0.3% back in October.

All countries in the G7 group of advanced nations will see a growth in their economy, too – aside from the UK.

In fact, the Bank of England expects that the longest recession in 100 years will kick in soon, lasting up until 2024.

The pound has plummeted in value too, triggering rising inflation.

Bear in mind that numbers from the National Audit Office also show that in 2016/17, the government spent £35million on securing the UK’s exit from the EU. The next year, it spent £0.4billion, £1.7billion the year after and finally 2019/20 in £2.3billion.

Government spending on Brexit preparations. See story POLITICS Brexit. Infographic PA Graphics
Government spending on Brexit preparations. See story POLITICS Brexit. Infographic PA Graphics
PA Graphics via PA Graphics/Press Association Images

2. Workforce

The UK workforce is notably depleted, although the long-term impacts of the pandemic have had a significant impact too.

Brexit, combined with the long-term effects of Covid, means the number of people who are an active part of the UK workforce has decreased.

A new joint report from thinktanks Centre for European Reform and UK in a Changing Europe found Brexit left the country with 330,000 fewer people in the workforce.

Even Next CEO Lord Wolfson – previously a prominent Brexit backer – told the BBC in November that there needed to be “productive migration” to help the country’s growth.

He said: “We have got people queuing up to pick crops that are rotting in the fields, to work in warehouse that otherwise wouldn’t be operable – and we have to take a different approach to economy productive migration.

“You have to control immigration but you have to control it in such a way that it benefits our economy rather than cripples it.”

He claimed that at the moment – when it comes to immigration – this was “definitely not the Brexit that I wanted” and said the “vast majority of the country” felt the same.

A Metropolitan Police officer speaks to a campaigner during a protest rally by trade union members opposite Downing Street on 30 January 2023
A Metropolitan Police officer speaks to a campaigner during a protest rally by trade union members opposite Downing Street on 30 January 2023
Mark Kerrison via Getty Images

3. Trade

Since Brexit, the UK has signed trade deals and agreements with 71 countries and one with the EU.

But, many of these are “rollover” deals, with identical terms to the arrangements UK had when it was an EU member, not new trading set-ups.

There is no imminent UK-US trade deal coming in 2021, despite it being one of the UK’s largest trade partners outside of the EU.

Other independent trade deals include one with New Zealand – which is responsible for less than 0.2% of total UK trade – and deals with Australia, Japan, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

It’s also worth remembering that the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is effectively a trade barrier down the Irish Sea for British goods going to Northern Ireland, is also affecting the quality of life in the region.

The government there is still not sitting due to conflicts over the protocol.

4. NHS

Who could forget the infamous Brexit bus promise to send £350 million a week to the NHS, rather than to the EU?

Well – now it seems the health service is in more trouble than ever before, with workers striking, longer waits in A&E departments and lengthening waiting lists for operations.

The British Medical Association (BMA) explained that there have been years of “inadequate planning and chronic under-resourcing” with Covid just being the “tip of the iceberg”.

Meanwhile, health think tank the Nuffield Trust said it’s likely that the decision to leave the EU may have encouraged EU workers in the NHS to leave the health service.

5. Military spending

A US general warned only this week that the British Army is no longer top-level fighting force.

Speaking to defence secretary Ben Wallace, the top US army figure allegedly said that after decades of cuts to save money, the UK was no longer equipped to defend itself or its allies.

This is a pressing concern right now due to the ongoing Ukraine and Russia’s war.

While the fall in defence spending has been brewing for decades, the rising energy costs and inflation (currently at a 40-year-high of 10.5%) have exacerbated the current problems, especially as the Ministry of Defence was also the only government department to get its budget cut in October 2021.

6. Immigration

While EU citizens may be less inclined to come to the UK now (this category has made up the biggest proportion of people leaving the country in the year ending June 2022), that’s not the case for everyone.

In fact, numbers of people crossing the sea (in what the government dubs an illegal form of immigration) have soared.

In 2022, 45,756 people came to the UK in small boats – and officials expect around 60,000 people to make the crossing this year.

It’s a growing concern for the government, which is why it has turned to the Rwanda scheme in hopes of deporting anyone who has travelled to the UK “illegally’.

Non-EU nationals have since pushed UK’s net migration to a record level, and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found in October that 504,000 more people had arrived in the country than left.

7. Bregret

Now a new tongue-in-cheek phrase, Bregret, is making the rounds, referring to the regret voters have over voting to leave the EU.

In fact, a new poll from Unherd and Focaldata showed that all but three UK constituencies now believe Brexit was a mistake.

While some keen Brexiteers remain loyal to the cause – Tory MP Andrea Leadsom said the Brexit will be the “best decision we ever made” this week – the general public clearly has waning faith in our 2016 vote.


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