January 31, 2020 3.50 pm This story is over 51 months old

Barry Turner: Brexit — The final countdown

The reality has already dawned

Saturday morning we will awake as citizens of a small island nation after nearly five decades of being part of the supranational state that went from an economic community of six to a union of 28 nations.

Depending on your point of view, this is a the regaining of our sacred independence and the new dawn of Great Britain, or the slow and inexorable decline as a major world power to a wealthy but politically insignificant backwater.

The atmosphere in the declining hours of our membership of the European Union cannot be described as electrifying. Four years of squabbling and political chaos finally came to an end with the election of the Conservatives under Boris Johnson with a unassailable majority.

Decades of debate over the merits or otherwise of our membership of the EU is over. We are enjoying, or suffering, once again, depending on your view, that last day in the EU.

Yet there is a remarkable calm in the air. There are no brass bands playing Rule Britannia on our High Streets, no remainers weeping openly in the workplace. It seems it is just another day and that tomorrow will more than likely be much of the same.

When Big Ben clangs at 11pm tonight, there will be celebration and commiseration in small measure limited only to the last of the enthusiasts on both sides. No one it appears has reported yet a rush on champagne suppliers or a dramatic increase in the sale of tissues.

The reality has already dawned that for all the doom and gloom predicted for the last nearly four years, for all the jingoistic nationalism, that ‘getting Brexit done’ will not have been achieved at 11.01pm this evening.

So now we start the years or decades long process of leaving the EU. Boris will of course get much of the immediate credit for this but he will have been snoring on the benches of the House of Lords for a long time before it is concluded. Exit from the EU is not stepping through a door, it is more like climbing a mountain or embarking on the great trek.

There is still trouble ahead. The promises made of the sunlit uplands of independence are already being watered down. “We will not align with the EU,” has already been replaced with “we will align on some things”. Compromises on fishing rights, once a sacred cow of the leave campaign, are already being discussed. The most influential decider of leave or stay was immigration. Already that is predicted to rise significantly over the next decade points based system or no points based system.

The Office of National Statistics predicts a rise of the UK population of 5.4 million between now and 2028, 73% of them immigrants. That is considerably more immigrants per year than the 336,000 that arrived in 2015, a year we were still firmly in the EU.

We can be certain that the word betrayal is going to reappear in the political vocabulary very soon. This time aimed at those who took us out of the EU, rather than those who tried to keep us in.

So what’s going to change? Well, lots really. It is not what will change that matters, it is when that change will be.

This is going to take a long time, a very long time. Leaving the EU will probably be far more like growing old than falling in love for the first time.

Barry Turner is a Senior Lecturer in War Reporting and Human Rights and a member of the Royal United Services Institute.